By Dr. Mark De Anda
Balance is vital to normal everyday life activities. Most of the time balance control is automatic but what happens when you develop balance problems? It can have a serious effect on people and their quality of life. Balance problems can limit your activities and undermine your independence or make your more reliant on your family.
For many of my patients with balance problems just getting out of bed or moving around the house to go to the restroom or kitchen is a little scary. Balance problems can disrupt or affect normal gait or walking patterns. Less balance may cause my patients a change in stepping rhythm, length or it may be difficulty to walk in a straight line. Many times this causes them to bump into furniture along the way which further causes a loss of balance.
Less balance will also increase risk for falls. Physical therapists use screening tools that can tell us how much risk the patients have for falls. Factors such as how the patient looks in standing (with their eyes closed), his or her ability to turn in a circle, or how the patient reacts when they are nudged. These factors are calculated on a scale and the lower the patients scores the more risk they have for falls.
Falls can cause injury or fractures that can lead to lengthy hospital stays. A fall for a young, health adult compared to an elderly woman are not the same thing. Especially for females with osteopenia or osteoporosis. This condition decreases bone density and cause the bone to be more brittle. A little fall off the bed can lead to big problems!
Ultimately, a fall can shorten your life span and lead to early death. Many times a fracture will lead to a surgery or operations to stabilize the bone internally. With severe fractures, total hip replacement(s) are required. Some patients never recover completely, slowly losing the ability to stand or walk, leading to less mobility and higher risk of early death.
Our eyes play a big part in balance as well. It’s very important to keep up with your appointment to the eye doctor! Lastly, the inner ear motion sensors plays a unique role with balance. Our inner ear tell us what position we are in (standing, sitting or lying down), and it tells us in what direction we are traveling. Unfortunately, the inner ear can be damaged and patients may experience dizziness while changing positions or moving from lying down to the edge of the bed. Physical therapists help by performing different techniques to the patient in different positions so that the inner ear works properly.
As we age, we have a slower reaction time when obstacles get in our way causing us to fall. Drug interactions and side effects that cause dizziness or decreased balance play a big part as well. Clinical health conditions like Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinsonism directly affect balance.
So, what do people usually do with balance issues? What would be your first guess? Most people ignore it! People may try to alter their bad balance by using a cane or walker, however, they are dependent to those devices. Finally, some people handle it by fixing the cause of the problem!
So, how do physical therapists treat balance and dizziness problems successfully? My patients perform balance-specific challenges and activities. Both standing and while walking. I also retrain my patients how to walk properly.
Patients may perform strength and endurance exercises that include re-teaching posture so that balance is not offset. They also perform exercises that involve eye, head and body movements. Finally, we encourage our patients to continue exercises during and after physical therapy.
If you are truly suffering from loss of balance or falling, and really want to handle your balance issues schedule an appointment with me. My name is Dr. Mark De Anda and I’m a doctor of physical therapy located in central San Antonio. Call (210) 314-6725 and schedule an appointment today! I can conform exactly what causes your loss of balance and I will also give you a written plan of exactly what a successful treatment looks like.