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The Three Systems of Balance

a photo to represent the blog post "the three systems of balance"

Happy Balance Awareness Week! Balance issues are a common problem, and understanding how
balance works in the body is an important first step towards improving it.

Balance is the ability to maintain the body’s center of mass over its base of support – in short: it keeps
you upright and on your feet. There are three different systems in the body that work together to keep
us balanced.

The Three Systems of Balance

1. Proprioception: Inputs from your muscles, joints, and skin provide a physical sense of your
surroundings, mostly through your feet and legs being in contact with the ground, helping your
brain “feel” where your body is in space.

2. Vision: Inputs from what you see around you helps your brain perceive your surroundings and
predict how you will need to move around in your environment.

3. Vestibular: The system located in your inner ear that uses inputs from your head position and
movement/acceleration to perceive your orientation to gravity.

These three systems work together flawlessly to tell your brain which system to depend on in different

For example, when we are walking on gravel or uneven ground, we may instinctively stare at the ground
as we move around to avoid tripping on rocks or holes. That’s our visual system doing majority of the
work to keep our balance. The proprioception and vestibular systems are working here too, but vision is
the primary input in this specific environment.

Now let’s say we’re walking down a hallway in the dark. We can’t rely on our vision for enough input to
keep us fully balanced in this environment, so we may instinctively reach out to touch the walls to help
us know where we are at. That’s our proprioception and vestibular systems taking over and providing
the primary sensory inputs that keep us from falling in this environment.

When one system isn’t able to function optimally, the other two systems will pick up the slack. This
becomes important when learning how to improve your balance. Balance training should include
exercises that engage all three systems to ensure balance can be achieved in different environments.

Since this week is Balance Awareness Week, now is the perfect time to meet with a physical therapist
who can show you how to incorporate the three balance systems into your balance training. Contact us to
schedule your appointment today!

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