Balance problems and a fear of falling are a big concern for many. They can make simple but vital daily activities such as walking, dressing, and bathing very difficult, if not impossible. Furthermore, balance problems put people on a path of significant muscle loss, frailty and loss of independence. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are filled with people who have lost their ability to be safe and live independently. Emergency departments and hospitals see many who have fallen and sustained serious injury. Fortunately there is help. Physical Therapists trained in balance and vestibular therapy can do much to help improve balance, prevent falls and preserve strength, function and independence.
A team approach between therapists, medical doctors and audiologists trained in balance and inner ear disorders is important to accurately identify the causes of balance loss and design a customized treatment program. Balance problems are best addressed on an individual basis because there can be numerous causes of balance loss. There are also numerous treatment options and they must match the cause of the balance loss to be effective.
Physical therapists 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).
Here are 8 specific ways physical therapy can help balance and dizziness problems:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 (i.e., “core”) can be especially helpful in improving balance. Various forms of weight training can be performed with exercise bands, which help avoid joint stress.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.