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Balance in the Lower Body

You’ve probably landed on this blog because you are concerned about the alignment or pain patterns in your lower body.  You might be here on behalf of a loved one or friend as well.  Either way you are in the right place!  Balance in the lower body gets more and more important as we age, and as our joints become stiffer.  Therefore it’s very important to take preventative measures to ensure that we are maintaining healthy alignment, balance, and mobility in the lower body.  Let’s dive in!

So thanks again for joining me. My name is Linnea. I am the owner and founder of Limber Arts Pilates and Personal Training here in Olympia. I also have a lot of services online, so you can access my teaching anywhere in the world. Many of my clients love to enjoy the easy access to nature in the pacific northwest, and maintaining strength and mobility in the hips, knees, feet, and ankles, is important for anyone who want to hike in the Olympic or Cascade Mountains or enjoy paddling in the puget sound. Let's dive into this topic of balance in the lower body.

Are You Afraid Of Falling? 

Are you afraid of falling? The first thing that comes to my mind is the term, paralyzed with fear.  Often when we’re afraid, there can be a sense of freezing, a sense of rigidity, almost like you're frozen on the spot.  When we think of that in terms of our muscles and in terms of our joints, it’s actually purely the fear itself that can lead to this feeling of stiffness and rigidity in our bones and our muscles, which oddly enough can actually make us more susceptible to falling.

Stiffness and rigidity in our bones and our muscles especially in the feet is a bad recipe for balance.  Good balance depends on flexibility, coordination, and fluidity.  Fear doesn't make that any better. Literally you can be paralyzed with fear of falling and then that can actually make you feel like you're more likely to fall, and it's a downward spiral from there.

So it can be a little bit of a trick because I don't want to scare you, but also we know that it's important to be aware of this concern and do something about it. So, it's a little bit of a dance around, you know, if we are stiff, if we are a little bit afraid.  One goal in restoring good balance is reducing fear and learning how to stay relaxed.  And that’s a good thing to work on before you're walking down the icy sidewalk! 

Basic Foot Function and Better Balance

Next, let's talk about the basics of foot function. Nothing too complicated, nothing too scientific, although there is definitely a lot of scientific research and theory behind foot function, knee health, and the biomechanics of walking.  I’m going to break down the science of foot biomechanics and translate it into useful tips and ideas for you to implement easily. 

Let’s take a broad overview of foot function and apply it specifically to improving balance and also maintaining balance in the feet, and also in the knees and hips. So, if we have a really rigid, stiff, high arched foot (it's often a high arched foot, but it could be any foot shape) but if it's locked in that shape, then that's not desirable foot function. One of the key hallmarks to good foot function is the flexibility and the mobility of the foot. There are so many little tiny joints in your feet. Your foot is designed to be what we call a mobile adapter.  It's designed to be able to adapt to all kinds of uneven surfaces, on the ground, a little pebble, a rock, whatever the case may be.

And that is, the foot is designed to be able to adapt and maneuver around that uneven ground without making it teeter and throw our whole body off.  so relating back to the fear of falling and that idea of being paralyzed by fear. That idea in itself limits the ability for our feet, particularly to function the way they are designed. In other words, a stiff foot is going to make it harder to balance, and it’s going to influence imbalances up the rest of the leg and body as well. 

From Teeter-Totter to Pancake: A Visual Approach to Optimal Foot Function

I like to give an image here. You can picture, I call it sometimes a teeter totter. Alright, if you have a stiff board and it's got one point in the middle and you can go up or down on either side, alright, that's basically the rigid version of misaligned foot function. And the more optimal version of foot function would be the image of a pancake hitting the pan. So if you imagine pancake batter and it hits the pan and it spreads, it adapts, it flows and that's what we want to see in a good healthy balanced foot. Spread and flow, and then we want to be able to use all of that mobility to then gather force and be able to propel and push off of that to send us forward.

So, we want to be more like a fluid pancake hitting the pan and less like a rigid teeter totter. And if you're thinking to yourself, what the heck is this lady talking about with all this pancake stuff then try this… Stand up for a moment and try to balance on one foot. Does it feel like your foot is happy to spread out on the floor? Or do you feel like you're on a teeter totter that's either going one way or the other? (PS please pass the maple syrup)

Old Injuries and Misalignments: Hidden Culprits of Balance Issues

The last thing I want to touch on here is the consideration of previous injuries or alignment issues. Just because we've had an injury in the past, and we might not be feeling active acute pain from that injury anymore, doesn't mean that our body has returned back to proper alignment and balance.

It's very common that we have an old injury in the body. It might be just six weeks old, a couple months old, or it might be 20 years old. But that old injury can still really be affecting the alignment of our bones and the alignment in turn is the thing that determines the pattern through which we're able to move.

There is what we call static alignment, which is the shape of the body at rest. Then there is the pattern of movement around that structure. A lot of times what I see most common for my folks that really struggle with balance and lower limb problems is that there's some misalignment issue that is present with the resting static alignment.

If we combine an alignment issue with that rigidity and stiffness, that is most often when I see a lot of balance issues, a really significant risk of falling. You take a poor alignment and put it on top of the structure that feels like a stiff and rigid teeter totter, and that is your worst case scenario in terms of balance. And unfortunately, a lot of times if we are that person, if we're the person that has misalignments, old injuries, a lot of stiffness, you know, we can often get misguided in the fitness and therapeutic world to be encouraged to just try harder to ‘stabilize’. Yikes!

There's a lot of exercise that will basically tell you to hold on for dear life and really try to balance as long as you possibly can,as if you should be able to be still as a statue.  but that can actually lend itself to a little bit of this continued feeling of rigidity or stiffness, which doesn't necessarily get us all the way back to that relaxed, intuitive, comfortable ability to balance.

So that's the element of how old injuries and misalignments and things like that could also be impacting your balance and just the health of your lower body in general.

I hope this gives you some good things to think about. I'm so glad you guys joined me today. Please share this with somebody that you know and love that could use this information. This is a great one to send out to your loved ones or someone you know. So don't be a stranger. Feel free to leave a comment below, ask a question. I'm always happy to follow up and answer any additional questions. 

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