Paula Allia talks about balance, gait and the aging process

Balance is something many take for granted. It entails the coordination of many systems within our body. Flexibility, extensibility, and strength of muscles work with the joint and its components to be able to adapt  to its surroundings. These systems also coordinate with the nervous system. There are receptors  in joints and muscles that help create the proper tension in muscles and allow the body to know where it is in space in order to make those necessary adaptations.

In addition, there is the sense of touch as your feet hit the ground as well as the sense of sight to visually adapt. When walking, there is a coordinated effort of multiple joints and muscles that are naturally timed to provide a smooth normal gait. This only occurs if the joints have the available mobility, stability, and if the muscles work efficiently. If not, abnormal gait patterns can occur. Assuming that the gait is normal,  muscles work around the joints. The muscles work around the body planes (sagittal, frontal, and horizontal). These are the flexor, extensor,  adductor  (inside) and abductor (outside) muscles.

Good balance utilizes many of the same muscles as in gait. Muscles can be used statically with use of isometric contractions or small motions to keep the body safe in a given position. Muscles also can shorten and also have tension while lengthening. The shortening of muscles propel the body. The lengthening tension controls the motion. Thus, all three of these are used throughout to provide a smooth safe gait.

In balance similar muscles are used around the joints and in all 3 ways depending upon the position in balance. Many times as one ages, some of these muscles become weaker. This may come from normal wear and tear or lack of use of these muscles. For example, the hip abductors which are on the posterior outer side of the hip becomes weak. This can change our forward propelling gait to a gait that waddles a bit from side to side.

If this occurs and is not strengthened, further problems can occur because now the coordination of muscle recruitment is altered. Weakened muscles along with decreased joint awareness can alter
balance. Often, people do not realize that their gait is altered or that their balance is not what it used to be.

The answer may simply be to create awareness of a proper heel to toe gait. Sometimes you can focus on a certain area and think of contracting a certain muscle and the pattern of movement can get better. This is neuromuscular facilitation. The base of support is also important for gait and balance. Someone with
poor balance should have a wider base by widening the distance between their feet a small amount. This thought also includes weight bearing on the whole foot instead of walking only on the toes or the side of the foot. If you think of the foot as a tripod, bear weight on the heel, the base of the big toe and little toe. If weight bearing on one foot in a static position, this along with contracting the gluteal muscles and core can assist in better balancing.

Good balance is natural and occurs involuntarily if all needed components are working properly. If there have been joint problems like sprains, strains, or surgeries then altered movement patterns may occur. Address these issues before you develop a habitual deviation. Work on your gait and balance now while you can doing forward and back motions as well as side to side motions. Be aware……. correct your imbalances.

To Your Health! For further information please call Paula Allia, PT, DHSc, at the downtown Fitness Together (239) 263-9348.

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