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It is important to learn about balance, because we are all just one step away from a fall. Normally, your child might have good balance, but disease, treatments, and other factors could change that for a while. During this time, learning how to prevent falls is very important. It will also help to learn how balance works and what can be done to improve your child’s balance.

Humpty Dumpty

How does balance work?

  • Walking can be defined as controlled falling.
  • Balance is the ability to control your body position no matter where you are or what is going on around you.
  • Each person has a limit to which they can move without falling, reaching, or stepping.
  • Input is given to the brain on how to react to movement by 3 systems:
    • What you see (visual system)\
    • What your feet feel on the ground (somatosensory system)
    • The position of your head in space (the vestibular system in your ear)
  • When 2 of these 3 systems are intact your body can still maintain balance. But, it becomes harder to balance as more of these systems are affected.

What happens?

  • If the information you are getting from the eyes, ears, or feet is wrong, it is harder to maintain balance.
  • Less control from the body is needed to maintain balance if the area is stable—well-lit, level surface, static visual input.
  • It becomes easy to lose balance when:
    • Your child is taking a medicine that alters balance;
    • He has been sedated;
    • His legs or arms feel numb or painful; or
    • Your child has other problems with brain or nervous system function.

How many of the 3 systems are being affected in your child today?

  • Getting up in the middle of the night is a complex task that requires the correct input from each system and great ability from the body to react quickly. That’s why walking around at night is a major risk factor for falls.

What can you do to help?

  • Please feel free to talk with your doctor, nurse, or the rehabilitation staff about your child’s balance if you feel that it is affected.
    • The staff has many ways to assess balance and decide what is causing balance to be wrong.
    • There are steps the staff can take to strengthen your child or make other changes to increase balance.
  • A fear of falling can create a risk for falling. The more your child knows about how balance works and how falls happen, the better he can adjust and improve balance.
  • Learn other ways to prevent falls by reading “Do You Know… Preventing Falls” and “Do You Know… Preventing Falls in Outpatient Areas.”


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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