improve your balance… ms or not

19Sep13

Over the years, as a yoga practitioner and a Pilates instructor, I’ve noticed changes in my balance. Of course, I now link a worsening balance with my body’s progression into MS, but now that I know what’s going on, I can address my specific issues.

Aside from your basic “stand on one foot” balancing exercise–which can be quite frustrating if your balance isn’t so hot–strengthening the peroneus muscle in the side of your calf could make a world of difference. (I know it has for me.)

If you’re thinking, “hmmm, this is a muscle I haven’t heard of!” it’s located laterally, on the outside of your calf. Here’s a good illustration of the peroneus longus muscle.

Now that you know where it lives, you can see how keeping this muscle strong can help prevent ankle sprains, can help with proper gait (heel-ball-toe tracking), and–yes–help you from wobbling side-to-side when you balance.

One way to engage this muscle was smacking me right in the face without my even realizing it. If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, perhaps you’ve heard the instructor tell you (often prior to balancing poses) to spread your toes as wide as you possibly can. The logic, here, is to ground your standing foot as wide as possible, to give you a wide base of support.

But wait, there’s more! If you spread your toes wide (even when your foot is not on the floor), you’ll see a muscle pop out of the side of your calf. This is your peroneus engaging. So, when you spread your toes in preparation for balance, you’re not only broadening your base, but you’re also engaging a key muscle that helps you balance!

At first, you may not be able to spread your toes. Most days, I don’t get even spacing between my toes. But I have greatly improved from where I used to be, and my balance has followed suit in improvement!

Without toes spread (and blue toenails)

Without toes spread (and blue toenails)

Toes spread... not doing too badly today!

Toes spread… not doing too badly today!

So, whether you want to do it while standing on the floor or a yoga mat, or while sitting on the couch and just spreading your toes in the air, try holding your toes wide for a count of 5, then releasing, and repeating for 3-4 sets. Do this a few times a week at first; after the first few weeks, you may be able to graduate up to a daily practice!

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