One of the main components of every examination we do with new patients is a video balance test. You can see what that looks like in the video below:
It’s true that our office works with a lot of people who come in with dizziness or balance complaints, but we do this exam on people even if their complaint is low back pain, neck pain, or any other problem you can think of. Why does a chiropractor need to measure the balance of someone with back and neck pain?
The reason is that balance is a really important indicator for the function of your entire nervous system. Large chunks of your brain and spinal cord are devoted to neurons that help to keep you standing all day. When your brain is struggling, balance is one of the key functions that starts to go badly first. At it’s most extreme, you can see balance deteriorate in brain injuries and illnesses like concussion, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Balance and the Nervous System
Our state of balance is the net result of multiple senses providing information to the brain. We take standing and walking for granted because it’s so automatic but it takes a ton of brain power to make standing upright work!
- While you’re standing your foot and ankle muscles are constantly providing feedback to the brain about the angle of your ankles so you can tell if you’re standing on a flat surface or at an angle.
- At the same time, your eyes and ears are sending messages to the brain about the location of your head. Is it moving? Is it standing still? Are you tilting? The location of your head will change the amount of muscle tension that you need to keep in your spine.
- Meanwhile, your spine is constantly manipulating the tension in the dozens of of muscles connected to your vertebrae to help find the right balance of standing up straight and maintaining comfort.
- All of the messages from these areas are being sent to the brain stem and the cerebellum for interpretation. Within fractions of a second, your brain is doing calculations and sending messages back to your muscles to make small little changes and adjustments as needed.
While all of this happening subconsciously, the higher level brain centers are busy with things like talking, listening, thinking about what’s for dinner, or any other thing that may be on your mind. Your brain separates these unconscious processes so you can do multiple things at once.
By measuring your balance, we can figure out what part of your nervous system may be dysfunctional.
Balance is Linked to….
The systems that come together to form your sense of balance are your vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive systems. All of these systems send signals and stimulate the brain to take action in it’s internal and external environment.
Disruptions to this system doesn’t necessarily mean that you will feel dizzy and off balance. Your body is really good at compensating when you lose one of those senses. How does your body compensate for a loss of some of your balance receptors?
By changing the posture of your body.
As your body makes these postural changes, then you may start to feel tightness in some of your back muscles in some areas more than others. It may lead to a lower hip on one side and a tilted head on another side.
Disruptions in these systems may also contribute to problems outside the spine. The neurological connections between the vestibular system and proprioceptive systems are also related to things like your heart rate, digestive tract, and control of blood pressure.
The best part about this is that balance can change really quickly. Even within a single atlas correction.
We Measure Everything
So why do we measure balance? Because we want to measure every meaningful datapoint that may contribute to getting our patients a successful outcome.
We can and do measure someone’s pain and symptoms, but pain and symptoms is not always a good indicator of someone’s level of improvement.
You can feel a lot better after an adjustment but your balance measurements are still far from optimal. If a patient stops working when they feel better, they are leaving a lot of improvements on the table that may contribute to a long term outcome.
On the flip side, someone’s balance and posture may improve relatively quickly, but their body still experiences pain. In some of these cases their body may need more time for nerve, muscle, and other tissues to heal.
That’s why we measure everything to get a complete picture. If we only relied on one metric, we may miss the whole picture.