Our body is well designed to help keep us upright and balanced. Throughout the body there are redundant systems to protect us and help us. Balance is no different. In fact, three different systems work in conjunction to help in balance. Loss of any one system makes balance more difficult, but loss of 2 or 3 can be very dangerous.
The Balance Triad
- Ears - In the inner ear, we have two structures (the semicircular canals, and the vestibule) that work together to produce balance and equilibrium. As this system is lost with age, balance is weakened and may accompany a loss of hearing (but may be separate also).
- Eyes – The eyes send a simple signal to the brain to say how the body is oriented compared to the horizon. This information is coordinated with knowledge of the position the body should be in to help with balance. When you close your eyes, you are placing more dependance on the other two systems. This system is often lost with cataracts or other interruptions in sight.
- Feet – Through a sensation called “proprioception”, the feet send nerve signals measuring the amount of pressure on each foot. This allows the brain to adjust to maintain balance. When sensation is lost in the foot the brain doesn’t know the position. A simple analogy for this is when you miss a step, the foot keeps going in a “fall” because the brain was expecting a sensation of a step. This is very problematic when the foot never sends the signal.
In fact, we have found balance is a primary concern of individuals with neuropathy, especially if one of the other (or both) systems is lost. There are techniques, including physical therapy that can be initiated to help improve balance in individuals without proprioception. If you have neuropathy and are falling a ton, or think you may fall because of “imbalance” using a cane or undergoing physical therapy could be helpful.
Let’s keep you balanced even in your peripheral neuropathy condition….