Living a “Balanced” Life

Have you noticed that as you have gotten older, your balance has gotten worse? Perhaps you don’t feel as steady on your feet when you’re walking or maybe you’ve fallen recently. While it is fairly normal for us to experience decreased balance as we age, it is not something that we should ignore.

Falling and Impaired Balance

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one in four adults over the age of 65 falls and out of these falls, one in five results in a serious injury such as a broken bone or head injury. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again, but less than half of people over 65 who have fallen report it to their doctor. Falling and impaired balance is serious issues, but both can be treated and improved with the help of a physical therapist.

The Causes

There are three parts to the balance equation: vision, the inner ear, and proprioception (which is the perception of the position of your body). If anyone of these three components is not functioning properly, balance is going to be impaired. Physical therapy, however, can be effective in treating balance regardless of which part is not functioning properly.

Vision

You use your vision to gather our surroundings and orientate ourselves. Needing glasses does not necessarily mean that you are going to have impaired balance and physical therapy can’t be used to treat poor vision. Vision plays into physical therapy more in the sense that if you have impaired balance, we can remove vision from the balance equation by having you close your eyes during balance exercises. By doing this, the exercise becomes more difficult and forces you to rely only on the inner ear and proprioception to maintain your balance. This, in turn, helps to improve the function of both the inner ear and proprioceptors.

Inner Ear or Vestibular System

The inner ear, or vestibular system, plays an important role in balance. It works by sending signals to the brain regarding the position of your head. In each of the three canals of the inner ear, there is a fluid that moves when you turn, nod, or tilt your head. Tiny hairs along the inside of the canals sense where the fluid is and send that information to your brain. Your brain then sends this information to your eye muscles so that they can counter the movement of your head and keep your gaze steady. If there hindered or slowed communication in this chain of events, you might become dizzy and start to notice impairments in your balance. Physical therapists can use habituation exercises for the eyes as well as for the inner ear to work to correct these issues.

Proprioception

Proprioception is the last part of the balance equation. There are proprioceptors in your muscles and tendons, which send information to your brain about what position your body is in or whether you are standing on a hard or soft surface. By strengthening your muscles, the communication between proprioceptors and your brain can be improved. Also, exercising in different balance positions, such as standing on one foot, can improve the communication between proprioceptors and your brain.

If you have fallen or think you might be at a higher risk for falls, don’t wait until you get an injury to improve your balance! Schedule an appointment at one of our locations near you and give us a call!

References
Home and Recreational Safety. (2017, February 10). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html
Content provided by Myranda Griebel, PTA