When standing still and walking, the concerted effort between the muscles and ligaments in the spine, legs and feet is significant. Many studies have been done to determine just how much proper balance will affect posture and gait. Based on an inverted pendulum model, David Winter, PhD, assessed and determined that balance is a vital part of standing and walking. His study found that the entire spine, as well as most of the body’s neuro-sensory systems, are involved in balance while standing and walking.
As a matter of fact, the only muscles that had a negligible effect are those found around the ankle. When considering balance during walking it’s important to keep in mind what happens to the center of mass and the center of pressure during the process and how it applies to posture and gait.
Based on the biomechanics of the human body ,there are three mechanisms that allow us to maintain balance while walking.
First is the moving of the center of pressure in respect to standing upright which affects the center of mass. Second is accelerating the body around the center of mass. The application of an external force is the third. In other words, maintaining our center of mass is the most vital part of balance and our body uses many different muscles, ligaments, senses and mechanisms to do so while standing and walking.
Without these internal forces working together properly, we would struggle to stand upright and walk straight. The primary systems most involved with walking are the vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The vestibular system tells the brain about balance and moving against gravity while the proprioceptive systems helps our bodies to coordinate the movement of our arms and legs in an efficient manner.
Balance is typically found to be affected when someone experiences dizziness, to use this term loosely. Some people who report feeling dizzy have clarified that it feels like the room is spinning around them or that they are turning. Others have used the terms floating, lightheadedness or giddiness. Regardless of the description, this may be the sign of a problem.
The most common cause of balance problems tends to be an inner ear issue. Anything from an ear infection to hearing loss may cause a loss of balance. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV happens when tiny crystals within the ear get dislodged and begin to move around within the ear. This results in motion signals being sent to the brain when there really is no motion, thus causing that dizziness.
Other types of vertigo include central or neurological vertigo, post-traumatic vertigo and vascular vertigo to name a few. Central or neurological vertigo is a dizziness that is the result of a problem in the balance center of he brain rather than the ear. This type of dizziness is much less common than inner-ear related dizziness. Post-traumatic vertigo is the result of a head injury, concussion or whiplash. Vascular vertigo is a dizziness caused by problems with the blood supply to the inner ear or the balance center of the brain. In each of these cases, symptoms may include severe dizziness and difficulty maintaining balance when walking.
Additional balance problems may be the result of weakened muscles, joints or vision. As we get older, our body will naturally begin to wear down. Since so much of the body’s systems are involved in balance, it’s natural for it to be affected.
Finally, a typical but not commonly considered source of balance problems is prescription medications. Many prescription medications will list dizziness as a side-effect but if it’s not discussed with the patient they may not realize it’s the cause. These are just a few of the potential issues that may affect balance. There are many more including but not limited to: acoustic neuroma, arteriosclerosis, hyperventilation, labyrinthitis, ototoxicity, peripheral fistula, peripheral vestibular disorders and tinnitus.