When we think about balance, most of the time we focus our attention from the middle of the torso down. While mobility and stability of the lower body and core are essential for balance, so too is proper neck function.
There are 3 main systems that contribute to our balance; our eyes, our vestibular system and our joint position sensors. The vestibular system is located within the inner ear and is sensitive to changes in head position. It consists of 3 semicircular canals oriented in 3 different ways that relay information to our brain about the direction of our head. This system is intimately related to hearing and as a result if we have damage to any of the structures within our ears or if we suffer from an ear infection, our balance is inevitably affected as well.
Movement of the neck which alters the position of the head such as looking up and down, rotating or tilting our head stimulates and activates this vestibular system. The more we activate the vestibular system, the stronger and more responsive it becomes. Our bodies rely on quick and sharp reflexes to keep us upright.
In contrast, when we don’t move our head and neck area, these vestibular reflexes become dull. This means that it takes longer for the body to sense that it is in danger of falling and subsequently activate the muscles necessary to prevent this. Where the head goes the body must follow, and if the head isn’t going anywhere the body isn’t either!
So what can you do to make sure that your neck stays mobile and strong? The easiest place to start is with basic yes (nod), no (rotate) and maybe (side tilt) movements. When you get to your limit try taking a deep breath and lightly pushing your tongue up onto the roof of your mouth to see if you can move your head any further