You know the feeling: You're walking down the street, when all of a sudden your shoe catches on a crack in the sidewalk. You realize that you've begun to fly forward, but for some reason, there's nothing you can do to keep yourself from falling.
And now, researchers have begun to understand why we lose our balance and end up flat on our faces.
The findings from the University of Michigan show that there's a lag between our brain registering that we're about to fall, and our muscles reacting to the fact that we're falling. Researchers were able to find this by analyzing electrical responses in the brain with an electroencephalogram (EEG).
"We're using an EEG in a way others don't, to look at what's going on inside the brain," study researcher Daniel Ferris, a professor in kinesiology at the university, said in a statement. "We were able to determine what parts of the brain first identify when you are losing your balance during walking."
For the Journal of Neurophysiology study, researchers hooked electrodes up onto 26 young, healthy people as they walked on a balance beam that was mounted to a treadmill. That way, when the study participants inevitably lost their balance walking on the balance beam, they would fall onto the treadmill and just start walking on that (thereby not falling and hurting themselves).
By examining the electrical responses in the brains of the study participants, researchers found that the brain recognizes a loss of balance before the fall actually occurs. Plus, people were more likely to first sense that they were about to fall when both of their feet were still on the ground.