Balance: Definition and What It Is
Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Balance Definition and Meaning
Balance is the ability to stay upright whether you’re moving around (dynamic balance) or standing still (static balance). Balance is a critical component in overall movement and stability and vital for carrying out daily activities with confidence.
Both static and dynamic balance involve the coordination of three different systems in the body — the somatosensory (receptors in your muscles, skin, and joints), visual (eyes), and vestibular (inner ears). Together, these systems relay messages to the brain about where your body is positioned in space. Based on input from these systems, your brain sends lightning-quick messages through the nervous system to muscles, bones, and tendons so they can react and help you move.
Achieving proper balance is essential for many activities in daily life, such as walking, running, and even simple tasks like standing or sitting without falling over. Balance is also what helps you maintain steadiness in a variety of situations, like needing to step over a rock, sidestep a pile of toys, or steady yourself when you trip.
Factors Affecting Balance
Various factors can influence balance, including age, muscle strength, and even mental health conditions. As we age, we often experience a gradual decline in balance capabilities due to muscle weakness, decreased sensory perception, and other age-related factors. Mental health factors such as stress or anxiety can also affect balance. In some cases, people may feel off balance or dizzy due to stress even when there are no physiological issues present. Movement is critical to maintaining good balance, especially as you age.
Balance: A Hinge Health Perspective
When you slow down or aren’t moving as much, whether due to an injury, a health condition, or too much sedentary living, you’re not activating the sensory feedback loop between your muscles and joints and your brain. This, in turn, can impact how well you’re able to maintain your balance.
Inactivity also causes declines in muscle strength and flexibility, essential components of balance. As a result, you may be shakier when you move and less confident in your stability. When that happens, you may further limit your activity — an understandable reaction. However, this only exacerbates the problem and often leads to impaired function, frailty, and injuries. It can also have a negative snowball effect on other aspects of your health.
That’s why it’s important to prioritize balance training exercises. You have the ability to improve your balance and prevent declines that can occur with age. The more active you are, the better your balance will be. And good balance can help protect you from falls and injury, keep you doing the things you love, and enable you to remain independent for longer as you get older.
Common Balance Problems
When people refer to "balance problems," they are generally talking about a spectrum of conditions and sensations that make one feel unstable, "off balance," or prone to a "loss of balance." Some common balance issues are:
Decreased muscle strength: Lack of muscle strength is strongly associated with balance issues, falls, and injuries from falls. Strong muscles help you stay upright, and improve endurance and flexibility.
Vertigo: This is a feeling of spinning or dizziness even when you’re not moving. Vertigo is often due to issues in the inner ear.
Disequilibrium: This condition is characterized by a chronic or intermittent sense of being off balance, often exacerbated by walking or standing.
Presyncope: A sensation of lightheadedness or faintness that doesn’t necessarily result in actual fainting but could be a precursor.
Exercises to Help with Balance
Improving balance often involves targeted exercises aimed at strengthening muscles and enhancing coordination in order to help you feel more steady and confident on your feet. Simple exercises like heel-to-toe walking, single-leg stands, and squats can help. Working with a physical therapist can also help you safely practice balance exercises. If you’ve begun to notice that you’re less steady on your feet, it’s understandable that you may be hesitant to exercise on your own. A physical therapist can help you safely build strength, stability, and coordination. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition.
Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Balance Training Seems to Prevent Falls, Injuries in Seniors. (2013, October 31). Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/balance-training-seems-to-prevent-falls-injuries-in-seniors-201310316825
CDC. (2020, September 30). Facts About Falls. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/falls/facts.html
How Does Our Sense of Balance Work? (n.d.). National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279394
Lesinski, M., Hortobágyi, T., Muehlbauer, T., Gollhofer, A., & Granacher, U. (2015). Effects of Balance Training on Balance Performance in Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 45(12), 1721–1738. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0375-y