Feet First: Clinical Pearl for the Feet #5: You Can (and why you should!)Train Your Balance
I say this in class almost every time that I teach, but it is important to know, like in your heart of hearts, that you can change and improve your balance through training.
The information we rely on to maintain our balance is derived mostly from three systems: our vision, our vestibular system (inner ear), and our somatosensory information (the info arising from skin, muscle, joints and ligaments of our periphery).
Our brain uses all of this incoming information to quickly assess our balance challenges and create a descending (motor) plan to the best of its ability.
In the same way folks are fatalistic with respect to bunions, I also find a general lack of understanding and stories that keep people stuck in poor outcomes around their balance. Countless individuals have bemoaned "my balance has always been bad". This is like acknowledging always having high cholesterol- even more of a reason to do something about it! Balance is not some predetermined skill we possess. We do not inherit balance. Balance is a learned skill. We need to keep up the prerequisites for maintaining it or, like any other skill, it will degrade.
This is one of those areas where you need to proceed with caution around your current belief structures. Are your current beliefs sticky (like wet sand, clumping together)? Or are your beliefs pliable and changeable- like dry sand?
Logically, it stands to reason, that if we work on and nurture something, it will change and we will adapt. Remember, we are creatures of adaptation, and change is going on all of the time.
To improve balance, first work with any strength or mobility limitations you found in the previous clinical pearls.
Then, let’s connect into the felt sense of our feet- your feet are just waiting to be checked in on- they will be so thrilled!
In order to do this, take your shoes and socks off and feel your feet. Feel the texture and temperature of the surface you are standing on. Notice the shape of your arch that runs along the length of the inseam of your foot. Touch the toes, and the muscle along the length of the long bones (metatarsals). Feel the bottom (plantar aspect) of your feet. Notice any muscle or connective tissue tightness and lightly press it.
Then place your feet on the floor. Stretch and separate your toes. Lift the arches of your feet and keep the connection with the base of your big toes and outer heels.
Come up to standing. If it feels comfortable, place your feet together.
Let your hands rest on your hips. Begin to gently shift weight from one foot into the other. Notice where your weight falls across our feet. Feel the skin, muscles work to keep you upright.
Next, begin to walk, slower than your normal walking gait. Feel which part of your foot contacts the ground first. Feel your weight transfer across your feet. Feel if you push off your big toe directly, or if you toe out and push off the middle aspect of the toes.
Stand still for a moment, and feel all of the activity and pulsations within your feet.
Provide nourishment, rest and support to your toes, feet and ankles daily. They do so much for you, and ask for so little in return!
There are so many conditions that can cause balance deficits. If you notice a sharp decline in your balance, please do not assume it is your feet, and seek medical counsel from your MD
I have intentionally not focused on orthotics or shoe wear during this discussion. Please talk with your provider with your questions to assess and provide bespoke foot wear solutions.