A child’s static balance refers to his or her ability to maintain a position without moving, such as sitting or standing independently without falling. Dynamic balance refers to the ability to maintain a position while moving, such as while walking, running, or standing up and throwing a ball. Both static and dynamic balance require the child’s center of mass to be balanced over his or her base of support. If the center of mass moves too far out of the child’s base of support, there are 3 main systems within the body that work in harmony to assist in correcting or “righting” the body— the proprioceptive, vestibular, and visual systems.
Proprioception refers to the ability of joint receptors in all joints of the body to tell your brain where your body is in space. The vestibular system involves small structures in the inner ear and the “Balance Center” of your brain, the cerebellum. Your vision is crucial to know what type of surface you are walking on, the depth of that surface, the direction you are moving in, and more. That is why standing with your eyes closed or walking outside at night is so much trickier! The input from all of these systems are sent to the brain and in turn, the brain adjusts by turning muscles on and off so that the child is able to remain balanced.
As humans, we are often moving and multi-tasking. Think about how many times a day you have to step over an object, squat down to pick something up, walk across different outdoor terrains, walk up and down the stairs, or carry something while walking. All of these daily tasks involve dynamic standing balance. If your child demonstrates impairments in his or her visual or vestibular systems, muscle strength, body awareness, joint mobility, or has high or low muscle tone, dynamic standing balance may be more challenging. This is where physical and occupational therapy come into play. Therapy can help your child develop balance reactions by training the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems, build muscle strength, practice whole body coordination, and task specific training for improved static and dynamic standing balance.
In order to develop your child’s dynamic standing balance, practice a few of the following exercises both indoors and outdoors. Be sure to practice in an open, safe environment so your child does not get hurt if he or she loses his or her balance!
Micayla Pedrick is a pediatric physical therapist at NAPA Center Boston. Micayla’s favorite springtime activity is growing fresh vegetables and herbs in her garden to cook with in new recipes. Her 2 year old Husky, Theo, loves to keep her company while frolicking through the yard and gobbling up delicious zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes!