Balance and Fall Prevention Program | IMPACT Physical Therapy Services & Treatments

Balance and Fall Prevention Program

Older people are at a higher risk of having balance problems; 75% of Americans older than 70 years are diagnosed as having “abnormal” balance.

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Physical Therapist’s Guide to Balance and Fall Problems

Balance problems make it difficult for people to maintain stable and upright positions when standing, walking, and even sitting. Older people are at a higher risk of having balance problems; 75% of Americans older than 70 years are diagnosed as having “abnormal” balance. Older women are more likely than older men to develop balance problems, although the difference between the genders is small. Balance problems increase by almost 30% in people aged 80 years or more. Mexican Americans have the highest rate of balance problems among all Americans. Physical therapists develop individualized physical activity plans to help improve the strength, stability, and mobility of people with balance problems.

Falls and a fear of falling can diminish your ability to lead a full and independent life. Although 1 in every 4 older adults falls each year, falling is not a part of normal aging. You have the power to reduce your risk of falls. A physical therapist can help you do so by:

  • Assessing your risk for falling
  • Designing an individualized plan for your fall-prevention needs
  • Helping you make your home as safe as possible
  • Educating you about the medical risk factors associated with falls
  • Providing you with appropriate exercises and balance training
  • Working with other health care professionals to address any underlying medical conditions that could increase your fall risk
  • Providing you with recommendations on appropriate community programs

What are Balance Problems?

A balance problem exists when an individual has difficulty maintaining a stable and upright position. A range of factors can cause balance problems, including:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Joint stiffness
  • Inner ear problems
  • Certain medications (such as those prescribed for depression and high blood pressure)
  • Lack of activity or a sedentary lifestyle
  • Simple aging

Balance problems can also be caused by medical conditions, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Brain injury
  • Arthritis
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Cognitive diseases
  • Diabetes

Balance problems occur when 1 or more of 4 systems in the body are not working properly:

  • Vision
  • Inner ear
  • Muscular system
  • Awareness of one’s own body position (called “proprioception”)

Poor vision can result from age, eye tracking problems, or eye diseases. Inner ear problems, also called vestibular problems, can develop from trauma, aging, poor nutrition, or disease. Body-position sense can become abnormal as a result of trauma or a disease, such as diabetes. Muscle strength and flexibility can decline due to lack of exercise, a sedentary lifestyle, or disease.

The brain coordinates impulses from the eye, inner ear, and body-position senses, and sends signals to the muscular system to move or make adjustments to maintain balance. If one or more of the senses is not sending correct signals to the brain, or if the muscular system cannot carry out the necessary movements, a person may not be able to maintain or correct their balance.

How Does it Feel?

A person with balance problems may experience tripping, swaying, stumbling, dizziness, vertigo, and falling. Although a person’s “static” balance may be fine when standing still or only performing a single task at a time, “dynamic” balance problems may become apparent when the person is moving about or trying to do more than 1 thing at a time (ie, walking, while turning the head to talk to another person), or when there is not much light (at night, or in a darkened room). If someone’s dynamic balance is abnormal, it can cause a fall and possible injury.

Balance problems can make a person fearful of performing simple daily activities. As a result, they may lose muscle strength and become frail because they avoid strenuous or challenging movements. A person who has balance problems may start to feel frustration about the condition, and become depressed.

How Is It Diagnosed?

If you see your physical therapist first, the physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health history. Your physical therapist will also ask you detailed questions about your condition, such as:

  • How often do you experience problems with your balance?
  • What are you doing when you experience balance problems?
  • Is your balance worse at nighttime or in dark rooms?
  • Does the room spin, or do you feel off-balance?
  • How many times have you fallen in the past year?
  • Have you suffered injuries from falling?
  • Have you changed or limited your daily activities because of your balance problems?
  • What medications do you take?
  • Have you had a vision or ear checkup recently?
  • Do you have difficulty with any daily activities?
  • How much, and what kind of daily exercise do you get?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions or problems?
  • Are you under the care of a physician?
  • What are your goals?

Your physical therapist will perform tests, such as motion, strength, coordination, visual tracking, and balance tests, to help assess your overall physical ability. Your physical therapist may collaborate with your physician or other health care providers, who may order further tests to rule out any underlying conditions that may exist.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists offer numerous options for treating balance problems, based on each person’s needs. They are trained to evaluate multiple systems of the body, including the muscles, joints, inner ear, eye tracking ability, skin sensation, and position awareness in the joints (proprioception). Physical therapists are experts in prescribing active movement techniques and physical exercise to improve these systems, including strengthening, stretching, proprioception exercises, visual tracking, and inner ear retraining. 

Your physical therapist can help treat your balance problems by identifying their causes, and designing an individual treatment program to address your specific needs, including exercises you can do at home. Your physical therapist can help you:

Reduce Fall Risk. Your physical therapist will assess problem footwear and hazards in your home that increase your risk of balance problems or falling. Household hazards include loose rugs, poor lighting, unrestrained pets, or other possible obstacles.

Reduce Fear of Falling. By addressing specific problems that are found during the examination, your physical therapist will help you regain confidence in your balance and your ability to move freely, and perform daily activities. As you build confidence in your balance and physical ability, you will be better able to enjoy your normal daily activities.

Improve Mobility. Your physical therapist will help you regain the ability to move around with more ease, coordination, and confidence. Your physical therapist will develop an individualized treatment and exercise program to gradually build your strength and movement skills.

Improve Balance. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises for both static balance (sitting or standing still) and dynamic balance (keeping your balance while moving). Your physical therapist will progressively increase these exercises as your skills improve.

Improve Strength. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to address muscle weakness, or to improve your overall muscle strength. Strengthening muscles in the trunk, hip, and stomach (ie, “core”) can be especially helpful in improving balance. Various forms of weight training can be performed with exercise bands, which help avoid joint stress.

Improve Movement. Your physical therapist will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in any of your joints that are stiff. These might begin with “passive” motions that the physical therapist performs for you, and progress to active exercises that you do yourself.

Improve Flexibility and Posture. Your physical therapist will determine if any of your major muscles are tight, and teach you how to gently stretch them. The physical therapist will also assess your posture, and teach you exercises to improve your ability to maintain proper posture. Good posture can improve your balance.

Increase Activity Levels. Your physical therapist will discuss activity goals with you, and 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.

Once your treatment course is completed, your physical therapist may recommend that you transition to a community group to continue your balance exercises, and maintain a fall-proof home environment.

Preventing or recovering from an injury can be difficult. Let IMPACT Physical Therapy help you get back in the game with our expert Physical Therapists. Contact us today to schedule a consultation!

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