Previously, we discussed the relationship between low back pain and balance, particularly our unfortunate increased tendency to fall as we age. Let’s look at ways to improve our balance by learning specific exercises that utilize the parts of the nervous system that regulate balance or proprioception—particularly, the cerebellum (the part of the brain that regulates coordination), the vestibular system (the inner ear where the semi-circular canals are located), the ascending tracts in the spinal cord (the “highways” that bring information to the brain from the feet and the rest of the body), and the small “mechano-receptors” located in the joints that pick up our movements as we walk and run and sends that information through our nerves and up the spinal cord tracts to the brain. Here are some very practical exercises to do (start with the easy ones):
- Easy (Level 1): Standing eyes open/closed - Start with the feet shoulder width apart, look straight ahead to get your balance and then close your eyes and try not to sway counting to 30 by, “…one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, etc.” Repeat this with your feet closer together until they touch each other. You can make this harder by standing on a pillow or cushion—but don’t start that way!
- Medium (Level 2): Lunges - From a similar starting position as #1, step forwards with one leg and squat slightly before returning back to the start position. Repeat this 5x with each foot/leg. As you progress, you can take a longer stride and/or squat down further with each repetition. You can even hold onto light dumbbells and/or close your eyes to make it more challenging.
- Hard (Level 3): Rocker or wobble board exercises - Use a platform that rocks back and forth or wobbles in multiple directions. Rock back and forth, eyes open and then closed, once you get comfortable on the board. You can rotate your body on the board, standing straight ahead (12 o’clock) followed by 45 degree angles as you work your way around in a circle at 45 degree increments (12, 1:30, 3, 4:30, 6, 7:30, 9, 10:30, and back to noon). Repeat these eyes open and closed. You can “improvise” and mix-up different exercises and create your own routine. Just remember, stay safe, work slowly until you build up your confidence, and keep challenging yourself.