Balance and Coordination? Is it necessary for me as a runner? Am I even lacking? To understand balance and coordination in the human body you have to break down 3 systems in the human body. The body utilizes three systems including the visual, proprioceptive, and vestibular systems. While we rely on the visual system predominantly, we must use a collaborative effort from all three systems to maximize our coordination. Without realizing how critical these systems are to our human movement, your body is heavily recruiting information from each system when we move at increasing velocities while running. Let's break the three systems down in elementary form and relate how each system aides runners.
This system is our workhorse or at least we hope it is. Your eyes are receiving information that the hindbrain is processing at rapid speeds. The visual field is not only directly what your eyes are focusing on rather all the information in the foreground, background, and peripheral view. Your vision can be distorted from medical conditions such as near sightedness, far sightedness, macular degeneration, cataracts, or other visual disorders. Lighting can distort visual perception. As we age we begin to lose the receptivity of light and thus we require brighter/more luminous lighting to be able to process the same information that we might have been able to process 20 years prior. This makes pre sunrise or post sunset runs a bit more challenging from a balance perspective. If you have a visual impairment that can be corrected w/ glasses or contacts be sure to utilize this equipment during your runs. This will aide to improve your balance and reduce injury risks.
Your body is equipped with numerous types of receptors some of which are referred to as proprioceptors. These workhorses housed within musculoskeletal tissues help provide your brain the necessary information it needs to recognize where a body part is in space. In order for these receptors to work efficiently they must have pressure through weight bearing and/or movement (both provided in running). Why does your body need to know where your joints are in space? The answer is simple....to PROTECT THEM! So while these receptors aide in balance they are chiefly attempting to protect us from injuring ourselves from overstress in an acute sense. The number one risk for a musculoskeletal injury is having a prior injury. There has been a substantial amount of research over the past decades that shows promise that this risk factor may not be due to tissue failure (because of prior damage) rather the risk may more likely be from inhibition and/or inadequate retraining of these receptors of a limb or trunk. Your foot/ankle serves as the first line of defense when it comes to correcting a threat to your balance. Thusly a prior ankle/foot injury will always damage proprioceptors of this region and leave one vulnerable without adequate retraining. Another frequently occurring problem with subsequent proprioceptive loss is related to meniscus injuries of the knee. The meniscus is heavily concentrated with mechanoreceptors that are damaged when the meniscus is damaged. Surgical debridement permanently removes some of these receptors and will require dedicated training to improve the response of remaining receptors. Don't think that the receptors of the leg are the only important receptors for runners. Just as equally important are receptors within the trunk (this area is foundation of human movement but a lengthy talk in of itself ) and the arms (responsible for aiding a reciprocal swing pattern during leg movements which improve our balance).
The third system helping our balance and coordination is the vestibular system. This system is found within the inner ear deep to the area responsible for receiving sound. The vestibular system gives us information related to speed and direction of movement of the human body. The combined effort of the visual and vestibular systems helps us to also comprehend the speed and direction of objects moving around us. This combined effort helps runners gauge that runner in front of us, track them down, pass them with ease, then turn around and gauge how fast we are leaving them in our dirt!! The disappointing truth to the vestibular system lies in the fact that it begins to lose some responsiveness as early as our 30's! Don't let this discourage you because we can train and IMPROVE the function of the vestibular system despite this fact. The most important step in assisting your vestibular system is speaking with a trained professional that can most importantly assess your vestibular awareness.
Three Drills to Improve Your Balance
These three drills can be used to improve aspects of your balance and coordination and can be modified to stress any of the three balance systems mentioned in this article. For guidance on those modifications or to receive a balance program custom tailored to your deficits then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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