In short, the word balance can be defined as follows: “Symmetry of forces and energies that compensate each other to maintain a stable state. It is a state of rest obtained by the equality of opposing forces and weights, allowing one to control one’s position and movements so as not to fall.”
More specifically, our body has the following with which it maintains our balance:
Each muscle (agonist) has an opposing muscle (antagonist) that is responsible for performing the opposite action (for example, the biceps bend the elbow, while the triceps unbends the elbow). An imbalance of forces between an agonist and its antagonist can lead to long-term compensation, such as bad posture! The criteria that our muscles must fulfil to keep us balanced are:
Thus, the role of our muscles is primarily to move us, but also to provide active support to our body through endurance and co-contraction with their opposing muscles.
Our ligaments are designed to stabilise our joints while our muscles work, whether during a movement or in a static position. They play the role of passive stabiliser. They have several receptors that measure the amount of stretch in a joint. These receivers allow them to warn our muscles in case of over-stretching so that they contract to restore the situation and maintain balance. An overload of tension on our ligaments can induce a tear of varying degrees, commonly called sprain.
Joint surfaces also have receptors, but are more sensitive to pressure. They evaluate the amount of pressure and its symmetry. As a complement to the ligaments, these receptors give complete information on the resultant forces submitted to the joint and allow our muscles to react. Uneven and / or excessive forces on a joint surface may cause irritation, leading possibly to inflammation and pain. This can result in ankylosis, premature degeneration, or even osteoarthritis over the long-term.
Finally, all this information is analyzed by our brain. This will then confirm whether we are in a state of imbalance and send the necessary commands to our muscles, via the nerves, to restore balance. In addition, our brain will process information from our eyes. It will take into account the horizontal level, as well as the rotation of our head (visual tracking, glancing). Finally, it will study the data transmitted by the inner ear (small crystals) that will confirm whether the movement is completed or not.
Balance is a much more complex concept than its initial definition. When one of the systems in the chain is damaged, impaired or incomplete, it will influence the speed and efficiency of the other systems to maintain our balance. An abnormality in any of these steps will result in the risk of injury, loss or impairment of our posture. However, bear in mind that all these elements can be exercised at any age to improve our balance.
A consultation with your physiotherapist will shed light on the source of the problem and give you the tools to recover.