What is Balance?
Balance is a sense, which is maintained by different body systems. Our visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive responses react accordingly to maintain our balance. Problems with any one of these systems can lead to decreased balance and thus increased risk of falling.
Systems that Affect Balance – visual, vestibular and somatosensory
Visual system (eyes) - what we see. Ability to take information from our environment (what we see) to change our position or movement to avoid obstacles or to walk certain paths.
Vestibular system (ears) - supplies us with input on movement and equilibrium. Gives us information about head movements and the body’s position in space (i.e. looking before crossing the street).
Somatosensory System (Proprioception): our body’s sense of where it is in space. Tells us were our body is in space (i.e. are my feet touching the floor).
Physiological Changes as we Age that can affect Balance
- Visual Changes
- Declines in muscle strength and flexibility
- Foot problems
- Neurologic changes
- postural instability
- slowed reaction time
- diminished sensory awareness for light touch, vibration and temperature
- decline in vestibular function
- decline in proprioceptive function (knowing were are body is in space)
- Decreased hearing
- Cognitive impairment
Why Physical Therapy?
- Physical therapists can help determine what is causing your imbalance by assessing the different balance systems, and assessing your strength, flexibility, and gait deficits.
- Once the problem is identified, an individualized exercise program will be established to address your needs.
- Exercise can aide in fall prevention by improving your strength, balance, and flexibility.
- Many individuals avoid physical activity (exercise) because they have a fear of falling or increased pain. If this is occurring, you should talk with your physician and see if they feel physical therapy could help. Then get a referral for balance/risk assessment.
Research has shown that physical therapy can help improve your strength, balance, coordination, gait, and flexibility, thereby decreasing your overall risk of falling.
Are you at risk for falls? The answer is YES, if you have any of the 6 factors noted below:
- Do you use a cane or walker
- Have you fallen in the past
- Have you just got over and acute illness
- Chronic medical conditions
- Multiple Medications
- Physical deficits (strength, flexibility, vision, hearing, functional mobility skills)