Balance issues are quite common, especially as we age. If balance problems go untreated, they can lead to falls and injuries. Mobile PT’s therapists work with seniors to improve their balance, muscle strength, and coordination, while also working on ways to compensate for sometimes irreparable deficits. We evaluate and develop treatment plans to promote safe movement. This leads to better success and less struggle when performing activities, and more importantly, leads to greater independence and an improved quality of life.
The Basics of Balance –
Good balance is your body’s ability to maintain the stability needed for upright posture. This is necessary for successful standing, walking, and sitting. Good balance requires the proper distribution of weight and posture to complete the desired movement. Without the coordination of each movement, one will be unable to remain upright in standing or sitting positions. This can lead to falls.
There are two types of balance: static, and dynamic. Static balance is our ability to hold our body in a specific position and posture. Dynamic balance is our ability to maintain balance while moving our body in different ways such as walking. When walking, each part of the body has a specific movement required. It should be completed quickly and correctly. The supporting muscles must be strong enough to accept the weight during each coordinated step.
Maintaining balance is a complex process that is controlled by three primary systems in the body:
- The vestibular system is mainly located in the inner ear. It is responsible for providing the brain with information about head position, spatial orientation, and motion.
- The visual system provides input from our eyes to the brain. It is the dominant system that provides information about the surroundings and where our body is relative to other objects.
- Proprioceptive nerves register sensations in the legs and feet. They provide information about a joint’s motion, contributing to safe and successful movements.
Why are balance issues more common with age?
The vestibular system decreases its output to the brain as one becomes more sedentary. It is common to become more sedentary if moving becomes challenging from either injury or disease. Doing as much activity as one can do safely, will help slow any decline. Many age-related diseases also interrupt the sensation in the legs and feet. We can see this in our patients with diabetes. Without these proprioceptive responses, one will not feel the walking surface which leads to compromised stability. Quickly address any medical issues that limit proper movement to stay active.
Age often also comes with vision changes. I learned this well when I turned 40. When the previously mentioned systems are compromised, vision often becomes the primary contributor to maintaining one’s balance.
Vision plays a significant role in your ability to balance, orient yourself in space, and process the movement of things in your environment. It is a critical part of how the human body perceives and calculates balance. Many of the nerve fibers in the eye connect with the vestibular system. Have your eyes checked!
Your Hearing –
Your ears are not just responsible for making you hear various sounds. They sync with other key systems in your body to aid in making you understand the existing surroundings. The hearing system and the balance organs share a nerve pathway to the brain, known as the vestibulocochlear nerve. People who have hearing loss are much more likely to have balance disorders. Have your hearing checked!
More than one issue or dual sensory impairment—such as vision loss and hearing loss—places extra stress on the balance system. Many body systems must work properly for you to have normal balance. The muscles, bones, joints, eyes, and ears need to all work together. If there is an issue with any of these systems, you can experience balance problems. Physical Therapists are experts in prescribing active movement techniques and interventions that promote a collaborative balance system.
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Dan Sheehy is a Physical Therapist and the owner of Mobile PT, based in San Diego’s North County. A family-owned business, Mobile PT strives to keep seniors strong and secure, decreasing fear and risk of falling. Our mission is to keep seniors confident and safe where they live, to maximize their quality of life and maintain their independence.