Training Your Righting and Tilting Reflexes

As upright creatures, the forces of gravity keep our feet on the ground, but what keeps us from toppling over when external forces interfere with our movement patterns?  The answer is actually quite complex. Every activity of daily living or sport triggers special reflexes, which help us maintain stability. These reflexes, which are ingrained in our nervous system during infancy, fall into two major groups:

1. Righting Reactions

2. Tilting or Equilibrium Reactions

Righting or labyrinthine reactions, which occur when we move on stable ground, are divided into five different reflexes. They maintain head and neck alignment, bring your body into an upright position, and adjust other body parts based on their relationship to the position of your head. These include:

  • Labyrinthine righting reflexes acting on the head
  • Body-righting reflexes acting on the head
  • Neck-righting reflexes
  • Body-righting reflexes acting on the body
  • Optical righting reflexes

When your vestibular system senses that your body is not erect, it triggers the righting reflex. It moves your head alignment, and coaxes the rest of your body to follow suit. The barbell squat is a prime example. If your body senses that the barbell is falling to one side, it hopefully triggers your righting reflexes and makes the appropriate adjustments.

Equilibrium or tilting reactions complement our righting reflexes. They stabilize our center of gravity and keep us from falling. These reflexes include:

  • Protective movements of the arms and legs
  • Tilting reactions
  • Postural fixating reflexes

In contrast to righting reflexes, tilting reflexes occur when we stand or move across unstable ground. Surfing, walking across the moving sidewalk at an airport, standing on a bus or fishing boat all require well-tuned tilting reactions. Squats on a balance board train your tilting reflexes.

When Your Body Gets It Wrong

In a perfect world, your body would trigger the perfect reflex reaction at the perfect time. Nobody, however, is perfect. Muscular imbalances, postural inefficiencies and faulty proprioception or spatial awareness can incorrectly alter your perception of a centered alignment. That’s why we have personal trainers.

Postural assessment and muscular imbalance identification form the foundation of any personal training program. That’s why it’s called personal.  Once your personal trainer determines what needs to be corrected, he or she will devise a program based on your sport.  Although all athletes and participants in the sport of life should train both their righting and tilting reflexes, depending on your sport, your trainer might put more emphasis on one reflex instead of the other.

Call Happy Physio for expert Physiotherapy on (08) 9272 7359 today!