One of the greatest fears related to aging is falling. Balance plays a huge role not only in helping a client avoid falls but also in instilling confidence in clients and helping them feel empowered to go about their daily activities without fear.
Physical therapist Dr. Sara Morrison, owner of Total Body Therapy and Wellness, answers a very common question about balance and helps us understand how to strengthen and maintain strong balance for a healthy, stable, confident life.
Q: I have been missing activities with family and friends because of my balance. I am very afraid of falling. Is there any way to help my balance?
A: Balance is something we tend not to think about until it’s ALL we think about. Without your knowledge, your body does an astonishing balancing act every day. And I am not just talking about your busy schedule! When we rise from a chair, climb stairs, and walk outside, there is cooperation between the brain, nervous system, muscles, and bones that keeps us from falling. There are many separate systems that work in unison to keep our body balanced, active, and independent.
Physical therapy is a wonderful thing to help regain your strength and balance after a fall.
But why not PREVENT THE FALL in the first place? Physical therapy can help not only regain strength and balance but also prevent falls through improved balance.
4 signs you may benefit from help with your balance:
1. You have fallen before
2. You hold onto furniture or walls when you walk
3. You shuffle your feet or walk with them wide apart
4. You don’t like uneven surfaces such as grass, gravel, or thick carpet
Balance is a very complex thing. Many factors make up your ability to balance, including:
Visual cues from our eyes tell us all sorts of information about our environment and where we are in space. Our eyes help us see and prepare for potential dangers and obstacles. They tell us if there are cracks in the sidewalk, if there is an object we need to step over, or if we are walking straight or walking to the side. Our eyes give our brain 70-80% of all the information it receives!
Have you ever gotten up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and needed to hold onto furniture and walls more in order to get there? This is not just because you may be sleepy; it’s because it is dark. Your vision has been taken away. Your eyes can no longer give you hints on what is in front of you. This means your body has to rely heavily on the other systems to balance safely.
The inner ear, sometimes referred to as the vestibular system, provides important information on the position of our head and its movement in space. This is how you know you are “tilting” sideways – it can get overwhelmed, making you feel dizzy or nauseous – think roller coaster! The inner ear is made up of 3 canals or tubes that have tiny microscopic crystals inside. When you turn your head to one side, the crystals on one side vibrate. This tells your body that your head is turning. These crystals help keep your head in the correct alignment and tell your body where you are.
Joint sensation is a built-in mechanism that tells your nervous system where your arms and legs are positioned in space. It senses pressure changes in the joints. Let’s play a game:
Close your eyes. Now move your foot. Can you tell if your foot is pointed or straight? Can you tell if it is facing left or right? Yes you can! This system can help you identify where your body is, even if your eyes don’t see it. This is very useful when walking to the bathroom at night!
We tend to “suck it up” and “deal with it” when it comes to pain. But pain can be dangerous. If something causes you pain, especially in your back or legs, it can make you lose your balance. When your leg gives out or the back pain shoots down, it causes you to lose control of your leg. And that is precisely when falls happen. Don’t underestimate the dangers of pain.
When one of these areas is not working right, it can put you at risk of falling. A Balance Physical Therapist will be able to evaluate you and distinguish which of these systems is the cause of your falls… or prevent them altogether. Once the cause of your fall(s) is determined, we can then address it! We will use specific exercises to address pain, weakness, dizziness, inner ear issues… whatever is the root cause of your balance issue.
Best yet, PT is all natural. No medicines, shots, or surgery.
No doctor referral is required and it is covered by your health insurance (including all Medicare plans)!
By Dr. Sara S. Morrison
PT, DPT, CDT, FCE, CFT, Cert DN, Cert FMT
Owner of Total Body Therapy & Wellness in Lillington
Caregivers and Falling
If you have a senior family member who lives on their own and who are seeking in home care, consider CaregiverNC. When you join CaregiverNC, we help pair you with a pre-screened and qualified Caregiver based on your specific needs and schedule – whether it be to help with balance techniques, companion care, personal care, dementia/Alzheimer’s care or other reasons. Call our team at (910) 692-0683 or click here, to learn more about CaregiverNC today!