The three components of balance comprise of the visual system (SEE), proprioceptive system (FEEL), and the vestibular system (HEAR – located in the inner ear). The brain integrates and processes all the information from these 3 systems to help us maintain our balance or sense of equilibrium. When you start to have problems with your balance, one or more of the above systems might be affected. Let us examine each of these systems briefly.

SEE no EVIL – Visual system

Receptors in the retina are called rods and cones. When struck by light, the receptors send impulses to the brain that provide visual feedback on how a person is oriented relative to other objects. This is how we know when we are upright or lying sideways.

HEAR no EVIL – Vestibular system

The vestibular system in each ear is made up of the utricle, saccule, and three semicircular canals. The utricle and saccule detect up, down, and side to side movements. The semicircular canals detect rotational movement. When the head rotates in the direction sensed by a particular canal, the receptors in that canal sends impulses to the brain about movement. When the vestibular organs on both sides of the head are functioning properly, they send symmetrical information to the brain.

FEEL no EVIL – Proprioceptive system

Proprioceptive sensory/mechanoreceptors from the skin, muscles, and joints are sensitive to stretch, pressure, and movements. With any movement of the body, the receptors respond by sending impulses to the brain which then interprets these movements. This is how even with your eyes closed you can tell if your elbow is straight or bent or which way your head is turned.

The Benefits of Balance Training

Balance exercises help to rehabilitate, restore, and prevent ankle and knee injuries. They work to increase the stability of the joints in the lower extremity. Balance training can also help to prevent falls in the elderly population. Balance training improves proprioception, which is the ability to know where your joints are in relation to one another.

An example of a basic balance exercise is standing on one leg and trying to maintain the position for a certain period of time.  To progress this exercise, it can be performed on an unsteady surface to increase the amount of strength/stability required for the exercise.   If you have a chronic ankle or knee injury, you would benefit from physical therapy using balance training to improve the strength/stability of your joints.

single leg stancesingle leg stance on an uneven surface