Balance Discs

The body uses muscle reflexes to protect itself. Reflex is the nerve communication from the sensory nerves, those that detect motion and position, to the motor nerves, those that make muscles respond. It’s reflex that allows muscle to stabilize joints as they move, protecting them from being loaded with weight and sheer
forces before the muscle is contracted to protect it.

Research indicates that people with recurrent low back pain exhibit delayed sensory to motor reflex affecting the core trunk muscles. This means that when stress is introduced to the trunk through motion, lifting, or other changes in weight bearing, there are delays in the muscle contraction that allow the joint to be loaded before the muscle reacts to stabilize it. The effect is damage to the joint, nerve, and surrounding soft tissue, and to the muscles of the low back and trunk.

Exercise on the balance disc helps restore muscle reflex to core trunk and extremity structures. By exercising on an unstable platform, the sensory to motor reflex is triggered, training the nerves and muscles to respond more quickly. The body is retrained to stabilize the joints prior to the arrival of the full load.

Initial use involves standing evenly balanced on the disc with your eyes on the horizon. If you find it difficult to maintain your balance, set the disc in a corner to avoid injury on dismount, or start with rubber tipped ski poles to assist balance. Initially, try five minutes once or twice per day, building progressively to twenty minutes at a time. As your balance improves , you can experiment with doing light knee bends, walking in place, or standing on one leg at a time.

Working with five pound weights moving one weight at a time straight out from the body to the front, and then to the side will help train the reflex of the core trunk musculature. The exercise train the core trunk to avoid recurrence of low back pain associated with delayed muscle reflex.

These exercises can also be included with a pattern of using the disc as a stretching adjunct. Standing on the disc while resting your arms on your bed or dresser, and stretching hamstrings, or using the disc as a balance platform in a lunge posture. Add weights sparingly, and if you don’t have time to stand on the disc, you can
use it as a sitting platform to continue reflex training.

Eventually, balance improves to the point that you can advance your training to include standing balanced with your eyes closed. By doing so, you remove the visual portion of the vestibular balance system, and further encourage the training of the local sensory-muscle reflex. You can even stand with eyes closed on one leg, but I would advise caution. Locate the balance disc in a corner and move sharp objects away so as to avoid injury if things don’t work out as you planned.

As a demonstration of its positive effect, one study using a geriatric group had patients stand, sit or when too frail, sit with feet resting on a balance disc. The study found a 50% reduction in falls, a 75% reduction in falls requiring hospitalization, and a 90% reduction in falls requiring nursing home care. Considering that within geriatric populations, falls are the number one reason for introduction to nursing home care, the results arguably speak for themselves.

So get creative and enjoy using your disc. Your body will work better and your world will be safer as a result.

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