Balance and Stability. What is the difference?

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

So, balance and stability. They are the same thing right? While one may affect the other, they are definitely not the same thing! They are often used incorrectly and interchangeably, as if they were synonyms.

I would like to start with an analogy to give a simple picture of the difference between balance and stability. I want you to picture somebody shooting a cannon from a canoe. The canoe may be balanced; it may even remain balanced while the cannon is on board. The canoe however, does not have the stability to remain in its position when the cannon is fired. In a similar manner, our bodies need a stable base in order to be able to produce force in a manner that is effective. If your body is more stable, you are able to shift more weight or produce more force in a more efficient and effective manner.

This principal is important for most sporting movements whether it is kicking a ball, throwing a ball, using a tennis racquet, running or even during a golf swing. If we have a stable base, we can produce more force, more efficiently and effectively.

This principal is important from both an injury prevention standpoint as well as a performance improvement standpoint. We will discuss the performance improvement perspective first. As explained above, the more stable the base of the movement, the more force that can be generated, in a more efficient way. To go back to the canoe, the more stable the canoe, the further a cannon could shoot a cannon ball. If the canoe is very unstable, the force required to fire the cannon ball a large distance would tip the canoe, while a small force, and hence a shorter distance of firing the cannon ball may be manageable. With a more stable canoe, more force would be able to be generated, and controlled, and the cannon ball would be able to be fired further, without tipping the canoe. The same principal applies in sport. The more stable the base of the movement, the more force we can generate off this base. Generally more force means better performance. This means you can lift more, run faster, kick harder, hit further or swing faster. Having a more stable base of movement also means less force is ‘lost’ in the kinetic chain. The more stable a runner’s knee and pelvis is, for example, the less force will be ‘lost’ in this area. This means more force is delivered to the ground to propel the runner forward and hence the faster the runner will run.

From an injury prevention perspective, it is simple, the more stable we are, the less prone we are to injury. For example, instability in the hips, often called a ‘trendelenberg sign’ changes the biomechanics of almost the whole body. It predisposes someone to: lower back pain, gluteal tendinopathy, trochanteric bursitis, ITB syndrome, patella-femoral pain syndrome, shin splints, tibialis posterior tendinopathy, plantar fasciopathy, among other conditions. The more stable the base of our movement, the more we can control the force throughout our body.

Balance is our ability to keep our centre of mass within the limits of our base of support, whether this is static or dynamic. It is responsible for keeping us upright whether standing still or moving. Stability is much more than this. Stability is the ability to control forces, which may be unbalanced, in order to remain balanced.

Stability is important for improving performance, and for reducing injuries.

For other performance improvement tips, see our recent blog post here.

To make an appointment with one of our physiotherapists go to our website.

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