How Your Physical Therapist Can Improve Your Balance
If you have fallen and sense your balance is impaired, check in with your doctor or physical therapist for an examination. Your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist for a complete balance evaluation. You can schedule an appointment with a physical therapist directly, as a doctor’s referral is not needed.
Many people may have impaired balance and not realize it. Err on the side of caution, if you are experiencing pain and limited motion, make an appointment with your physical therapist for a comprehensive balance evaluation.
Difficulty standing, walking or even sitting are common signals that you may be experiencing balance issues. As we age, all of us are at a higher risk of having balance problems. Physical therapists develop individualized physical activity plans to help improve the strength, stability, and mobility of people with balance problems. Physical therapy helps improve your mobility, and may boost your energy levels and well-being from the ability to enjoy normal everyday activities.
What Keeps Us Balanced?
Basically, there are three systems in your body that work together to help keep you standing upright with good balance.
Vestibular System (inner ear transmits signals to brain)
Proprioceptive System (muscles and joints)
First, your visual system works to provide your brain information about where your body is in relation to your environment. Individuals with impaired vision may experience balance problems due to not having a clear lay of the land. Your physical therapist may ask about your vision and if you wear corrective lenses. If corrective lenses are needed, you may very well may have solved your balance issues.
Your vestibular system is in your inner ear, and it works to provide your brain information about the position of your head. The vestibular structures with the inner ears on each side of your head, act like internal levelers, to keep you balanced. Think of the vestibular structures as levels filled with fluid, and as you move and turn your head, the fluid activates your nerves to make any body adjustments to keep you from falling.
Your proprioceptive system is a group of specialized nerve endings in your muscles, tendons, and joints of your body. These nerves communicate with an injury, surgery, or a neurological condition may impair your brain’s ability to tell your muscles how and when to contract and expand your joints for balance.
Your PT may recommend that you consult with other medical providers, including:
An eye doctor, to check your vision
An ear doctor, to check your outer and inner ear
Your personal physician, to review your medications to see if any of them may be affecting your balance.
Routine tests, such as motion, strength, coordination, visual tracking, and balance tests help assess your overall physical ability. Your physical therapist may collaborate with your physician to rule out any underlying conditions that may exist. Once diagnosed your PT will prescribe specific exercises to help improve your balance.
SIMPLE EXERCISES TO IMPROVE BALANCE
Be sure to check with your PT before starting any exercises. The following are four simple balance exercises that will help improve your balance:
Single Leg Stance
Find something stable to hold onto, and then lift one foot off the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and then repeat with the other foot. You can increase the challenge by letting go of the stable object you are holding or by closing your eyes while standing on one foot.
Tandem Walking with a Heel-to-Toe Pattern
Standing upright, walk forward by placing one heel directly in front of the toes on the opposite foot. Walk forward for 10 paces. Safety first, find a long counter in your kitchen for balance while walking or practice in the hallway using the wall for balance.
Walking with Various Head Motions
Walk forward for 10 paces while turning your head left and right, scanning across the room as you walk. Then, walk forward while nodding your head up and down. The changing visual field will challenge your balance and equilibrium systems.
Situations that challenge your balance may lead to falls while you are doing the exercise. Work closely with your physical therapist to ensure that you do the right exercises while still maintaining safety.
Your physical therapist will treat your balance problems by identifying their causes, and designing an individual treatment program to address your specific needs to help you:
Reduce Fall Risk
Improper footwear and hazards in your home may increase your risk of balance problems or falling.
Reduce Fear of Falling
Physical therapy builds balance confidence and physical ability, helping you better able to enjoy your normal daily activities.
Your physical therapist will develop an individualized treatment and exercise program to gradually build your strength and movement skills.
Your physical therapist will teach you exercises for both static balance (sitting or standing still) and dynamic balance (keeping your balance while moving).
Strengthening muscles in the trunk, hip, and stomach are helpful in improving balance. Weight training can be performed with exercise bands to alleviate any avoid joint pain.
Your physical therapist will develop specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in your joints.
Improve Flexibility and Posture
Upon assessing your posture, your PT will develop an exercise program to improve your ability to maintain proper posture. Good posture leads to improved balance.
Increase Activity Levels
Your PT will design an exercise program to address your individual needs and goals. Your physical therapist will help you reach those goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible.
The key to improving your balance is to create situations that challenge your balance. This helps your body’s systems adapt and change, hopefully leading to improved balance and muscular control.
To learn more about safe balance exercise programs or to schedule an appointment contact Moriarty Physical Therapy at 845.454.4137 or visit our website at MoriartyPT.com.
Sears, B. (October 31, 2016). Physical Therapy Balance Exercises. Very Well.
Avruskin, A. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com. Physical Therapist’s Guide to Balance Problems. American Physical Therapy Association.