As we get older there are many changes, both good an bad, that come along. One unfortunate change that a lot of people encounter is difficulty with balance. There are many different factors that can lead to falls/impaired balance including changes in vision, weakness, side effects from various medications, and various neurological conditions. A loss of balance is very risky as a bad fall can lead to very serious injuries. Here are a few ways that physical therapy can help to improve your balance, and allow you to fully enjoy the golden years!
There are 3 major factors that contribute to balance:
1. Vision: pretty straightforward, hard to stay balanced if you can't see what's in front of you
2. Proprioception: your brain's awareness of where you are in space
3. Vestibular system: includes organs within the inner ear that aid in maintaining balance
With the help of a physical therapist, we can devise an exercise plan that helps strengthen and sharpen each of these major factors to enhance your overall balance. Here are a few ways we'd approach it:
1. Vision: By completing various exercises with our eyes closed, it eliminates our visual input, making it harder to balance. Then, when you are completing regular daily activities with your eyes open, it will be that much easier! These exercises can be as simple as sitting or standing with your eyes closed, standing on one foot with your eyes closed, or even taking a few steps forward and back with your eyes closed.
2. Proprioception: It is easiest for us to tell where we are in space when we are standing on a steady surface. To challenge our proprioception, we change surfaces. For example, standing on foam or a pillow, walking on a balance beam, or standing on a bosu ball all help to challenge our proprioception. If you really want an extra challenge, try standing with your eyes closed AND on an unsteady surface!
3. Vestibular system: Because the vestibular system is primarily in our inner ear, we can challenge it by changing the position of our head. For example, walking forward or backward while turning your head side to side, up and down, or while tracing certain objects with your eyes will enhance your vestibular system.
If you start to notice that you are feeling a little unsteady on your feet, don't hesitate to call your PT. There are lots of ways we can help to keep you on your feet (and more importantly, off the floor!)