Balance strategy basics
Balance strategy basics
Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, OCS, CGFI
As homo sapiens, we walk upright on two feet. We use complex sensory organs, nerves, and muscles to keep us balanced. It’s all about keeping our center of gravity over our base of support. We have three strategies to maintain our balance. They are the: ankle strategy, hip strategy, and stepping strategy.
Our center of gravity hangs around our belly button region, it’s the balance point of the body at rest. With movement, our center of gravity changes. For example, when we lean forward over a counter, our center of gravity shifts forward. If we walk, our center of gravity moves forward, but also up and down and side to side.
Our base of support is the area that the center of gravity is resting on and supported by. In standing, it’s our feet and the area between the feet. If you use a cane, our base of support also includes the area where your cane is positioned.
Maintaining our balance is as simple as keeping our center of gravity over our base of support, and that’s where the balance strategies come in.
For quiet standing, our first strategy is the ankle strategy. When we stand, our ankles and the muscles that cross over the ankles work hard to keep us balanced. Small perturbations of our center of gravity are counteracted by our ankle strategy. Our ankle joints are designed to move in all directions, thus making our ankle strategy an effective tool at keeping us upright as our weight shifts in all different directions. .
The hip strategy is the next line of defense. If our ankle strategy fails to keep our center of gravity over our base of support, then we move our hips to compensate. It’s a swaying of the hips that counteract larger perturbations, basically moving our center of gravity around to keep it over our base of support, like a tightrope walker. Hips also move in all directions, and can really be effective at keeping our balance, but not as good as the ankle strategy. As we age, due to a loss of flexibility or strength, our hip strategy becomes more prominent. It’s less efficient, but still important.
Our third balance strategy is our stepping strategy. When the perturbation is so large that our ankle or hip strategies cannot compensate for it, we take a step. It’s when your center of gravity is pushed so far, your last resort is to make your base of support larger and take a step. It’s effective, but again, not efficient. If this is your primary balance strategy, then we have some work to do.
Using all three balance strategies effectively and in the correct sequence is an integral part of a fall prevention program. We can perform a full evaluation and determine where your weaknesses may lie and reduce your risk of falls.
If you would like more information, please call Professional Physical Therapy and Training at 973-270-7417. Our offices are located within the YMCA locations in Madison and Summit, NJ. You do not need to be a member of the YMCA to visit with us.