Friday, 1 May 2015

The Balancing Act- Life Balance

Have you ever tried to stand on one foot and balance? How was it? A bit wobbly? Or did you manage to stand perfectly still?
Have you ever twisted your ankle and found that it affected your balance....and then after, noticed that you kept on re twisting it?
 As a physio I have treated my fair share of ankles throughout the years and have found that one of the most important parts of the rehab in injuries like this is to work on balance. Unless you work on the reeducation of proprioception (I'll explain that in a minute) you will be forever vulnerable.

Proprioception is the ability of the body to sense how it is positioned in space. Within the muscles and joints and ligaments surrounding joints (in this case the ankle) are the nerve receptors that are responsible for picking up signals of stretch and tension. If you are standing on one foot and sway a little, the signals from these receptors are sent to the brain to be processed and acted on accordingly. If the body is swaying to the left it will counter it by pulling it to the right. It does this by a complex relay of information from these nerve receptors, up to the brain and back down to the opposing muscles. It is the ongoing interplay of these signals, constantly firing, that allows for continuous readjustments to position so that we don't fall over... and It's done mostly at a subconscious level. 
If these receptors are damaged (in the case of the twisted ankle) the information sent to the brain is impaired and it can affect the perception of how the body is positioned. It can also affect and slow the nerve signals to the correcting muscles...if you are then unfortunate enough to twist your ankle again, the correcting muscles don't have enough time to fire and you end up doing a whole bunch more damage. The ankle gives way,  you end up feeling off balance or you fall over.

So why am I talking about Proprioception today?

A few weeks ago I received a Tweet from a good friend of mine (also another Physio)  and she commented on how she had read some of the blog and It seemed like I had my life balance sorted. It got me thinking about balance and what it actually is.

 In the last few years I've had the opportunity on a few occasions to drive a Segway. It's a really fun activity that uses balance to move. You lean forward to move forward, you lean back to stop or go back wards. You lean to the left  to turn left and to the right to turn right. It is a continuous sway from one direction to another and even standing "stationary" you are making lots of tiny movements.
Like the action of proprioception...where to maintain balance it is actually one continuous biofeedback loop of being off balance and  making minor or major readjustments to be in the optimum position.... Life balance is the same thing.

Life Is Like a Bicycle - Albert Einstein Quote Bike poster

There IS NO ONE STATIC position that we end up in and stay in. We continuously sway off the centre line and lose equilibrium. Hopefully we become aware and make adjustments to move back again.... then it's off to the other side and ....oops, too far...need to come back again. Sometimes we actually fall on our face and have to get back up and learn how to walk all over again.

We are never never never truly just standing completely still. Even if our "appearance of balance" looks right for now.... there are still the unseen adjustments being made to stay standing up tall. Some major, some minor. Unlike the ankle analogy where the only way to fall is anywhere in our 360 degree radius, life... is more of a continuum along a set of value lines. For do example do you sit in the "push yourself to achieve camp" or sit at the other end of the spectrum and "stop and enjoy life"? Or are you somewhere in the middle?

pushing yourself to achieve<.......................................>stopping to enjoy the view...

If we sway too far to one side and stay in one place too long then the other areas can often suffer.

Life Is A Balancing Act

 In physio rehab we often give exercises to reeducate balance and proprioception. Usually these are exercises that put the individual off balance! This allows them to feel uncomfortable and sense where their true centre of gravity actually is. In doing so they are also contracting muscles and strengthening them to work optimally again.
In Life the signals of being "off balance" are usually the same as those of "stress" (see Post "Working on automatic" for links to symptoms of stress).

Life events that can throw us off balance can seem a real challenge.... and they are ...(believe me, I've had and still have my fair share!)...BUT if we look at them in light of the proprioceptive exercises, they can help strengthen us and allow us to see our true "centre" and come back stronger.

And so it is with life balance is not ideal but I am working on making those adjustments  some of which are rather large... but hopefully as I practice my "proprioceptive awareness of life"  and gain a better sense of where I am positioned....the adjustments will become smaller. 
For those who have currently lost balance, falling can seem rather scary but all we have to do is remember how many times our kids fell as toddlers when learning to walk. We  know that balance DOES improve with continued practice, and it DOES get better eventually (unless its a special one like Heni!) 
I think its important to remember that those times we have fallen (and metaphorically done the rehab)...will always make us stronger in the long run... 


                       ..and if I can drive a Segway...there's  hope for us all yet!  

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