Are you having difficulty balancing?
Balance problems make it difficult for people to maintain stable and upright positions when standing, walking, or even sitting. Older people are at a higher risk of having balance problems- 75% of Americans older than 70 years are diagnosed as having “abnormal” balance and older women are more likely than older men to develop balance problems. Balance problems increase by almost 30% in people aged 80 years or more. Physical therapists develop individualized physical activity plans to help improve the strength, stability, and mobility of people with balance problems.
What Causes Balance Problems?
A balance problem exists when an individual has difficulty maintaining a stable and upright position. A range of factors can cause balance problems, including muscle weakness, joint stiffness, inner ear problems, aging, certain medications, and lack of activity
Balance problems can also be caused by medical conditions, such as: stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, arthritis, spinal cord injury, cognitive diseases, diabetes.
Balance problems occur when 1 or more of 4 systems in the body are not working properly: vision, inner ear, muscular system, awareness of one’s body position (called proprioception).
Poor vision can result from age, eye tracking problems, or eye diseases. Inner ear problems, also called vestibular problems, can develop from trauma, aging, poor nutrition, or disease. Body-position sense can become abnormal as a result of trauma or a disease, such as diabetes. Muscle strength and flexibility can decline due to lack of exercise, a sedentary lifestyle, or disease.
How Does It Feel?
A person with balance problems may experience tripping, swaying, stumbling, dizziness, vertigo, and falling. Balance problems can make a person fearful of performing daily activities. As a result, they may lose strength and become frail because they avoid strenuous or challenging movements. A person who has balance problems may start to feel frustration about the condition, and become depressed.
How Is It Diagnosed?
If you see your physical therapist first, the physical therapist will conduct an evaluation that includes taking your health history. They will also ask you detailed questions about your condition and perform tests, such as motion, strength, coordination, visual tracking, and balance tests, to help assess your overall physical ability. They may collaborate with your physician or other health care providers, who may order further tests to rule out any underlying conditions that may exist.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
Physical therapists offer numerous options for treating balance problems, based on each person’s needs. They are trained to evaluate multiple systems of the body, including the muscles, joints, inner ear, eye tracking ability, skin sensation, and position awareness. Physical therapists are experts in prescribing movement techniques and exercise to improve these systems, including strengthening, stretching, proprioception exercises, visual tracking, and inner ear retraining.
Your physical therapist can help treat your balance problems by identifying their causes, and designing an individual treatment program to address your specific needs, including exercises you can do at home. Your physical therapist can help you reduce your fall risk and fear of falling. They can also improve your mobility, balance, strength, movement, flexibility, and activity levels.
Once your treatment course is completed, your physical therapist may recommend that you transition to a community group to continue your balance exercises, and maintain a fall-proof home environment. Many such community groups exist, hosted by hospitals, senior centers, or volunteer groups.
Can this Condition be Prevented?
To help prevent balance problems, your physical therapist will likely advise you to:
- Keep moving. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Perform a challenging physical activity each day to keep your muscles strong and flexible, and your heart and lungs strong. Use your body as much as you can to walk, climb stairs, garden, wash dishes by hand, and other daily activities that keep you moving. If you work out or follow a fitness program, keep it up!
- Have yearly checkups for vision and hearing. Make sure your vision prescription is up-to-date.
- Carefully manage chronic diseases like diabetes, whose long-term side effects can include balance problems. These side effects can be greatly reduced by following the recommended diet and medication guidelines given to you by your physician.
- Monitor your medications. Make note of any medications that you think may be affecting your sense of balance, and talk to your physician about them.
- Report any falls to your physician and physical therapist immediately. They will evaluate and address the possible causes.
Your physical therapist will also prescribe a home exercise program specific to your needs to prevent future problems or injuries. This program can include strength and flexibility exercises, posture retraining, eye-tracking and vestibular exercises, and balance exercises
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask one of our physical therapists!
Source: Move Forward PT