Anyone having balance problems is likely to feel lightheaded, dizzy (as though they are in a spinning room), or unsteady. You might also feel you are about to fall. This feeling can last whether you are walking, seated, or lying.

To have a proper balance, several systems within the body like the nerves, heart, muscles, joints, bones, eyes, blood vessels, and the organ responsible for balance in the inner ear have to function optimally. Whenever these systems cannot function properly, you are likely to have balance issues.

This blog will look into the balance, causes of balance problems, the diagnosis, and how physical therapy can benefit individuals with these problems, among other things.

Understanding Balance

The three systems within your body that coordinate to keep you erect and steady are as follows:

  • Your visual system and eyes

  • The vestibular system within your inner ear

  • Your muscles and joints, making up the proprioceptive system

Anything that disrupts how these systems work or link to each other can throw your equilibrium off.

Balance exercises will put these systems in conditions that must function together beneficially—this aids in adapting and altering the body's systems, resulting in improved balance and muscle coordination.

The Visual System

As you walk through your surroundings, the visual system provides information to your brain about the location of your body. For this reason, people with reduced eyesight may have trouble maintaining their balance. They have no idea of their location or the distance between them and an object.

Your physical therapist may inquire about your sight when examining your balance. They might inquire as to whether you use contact lenses or glasses.

However, because treating vision problems is outside a physical therapist's practice area, they may advise you to see an eye specialist. This will guarantee that your eyes are functioning correctly.

The Vestibular System

Your inner ear houses the vestibular system. It works by sending information about your head's position to your brain.

Your head has two vestibular structures on either side that operate as tiny levelers. They're both brimming with liquid. Fluid flows to one of the structure's sides as you move and swivel your head, activating the nerves there.

These nerves subsequently connect with the brain, providing it with information about your head's posture. Because the vestibular system is so delicate, any damage or impairment can cause vertigo (dizzy spells) or other balance issues.

The Proprioceptive System

Your body senses its location and movements regarding your environment through proprioception. This perception is sometimes referred to as spatial awareness.

A set of specific nerve endings within your muscles, joints, and tendons are responsible for this system. These nerves transmit information to your brain. They tell the brain your position and how and when a muscle operates to move.

Causes of Balance Problems

Several balance problems could result from medical conditions. They include:

  • Stroke

  • Arthritis

  • Diabetes

  • Blood circulation disorders

  • Head or spinal cord injuries

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Parkinson's disease

Other causes might include:

  • Issues with the inner ear

  • Aging

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Stiffness of the joints

  • Muscle weakness

  • Visual problems

  • Neurological conditions

  • Low or high blood pressure

  • Side-effect to medication

Individuals with balance problems are likely to have the following symptoms:

  • Visual changes like blurriness

  • Confusion

  • Dizziness or having a floating sensation

  • Feeling as though you are about to fall or falling

  • Feeling lightheaded or faint

  • Instability

  • Vertigo (spinning)

Different people may experience balance problems differently. There are individuals whose static balance is average, meaning as long as they are sitting or standing motionless, their balance is excellent. Sometimes, one might balance well when only engaging in a single activity.

Changes might set in when trying to accomplish more than one thing at a time. It could be bending to pick an object, turning your head to speak to someone as you walk, or experiencing instability when walking at night. These are just some scenarios where one's dynamic balance could be compromised.

Whenever a person has a compromised dynamic or static balance, they become more susceptible to falls hence have fresh injuries.

With such challenges, the affected person will avoid the movements that could trigger an imbalance. Sometimes, they could even decide to avoid any movement at all. While this will give them some temporary comfort, it will only increase the problem. Not using his muscles or joints to make any movement makes these vital body components likely grow weak.

Diagnosing Balance Problems

Since balance impairs movement, an individual might opt to see a physical therapist get the necessary help to restore their movement and thus balance. The therapist will ask critical questions before performing other physical tests to determine the cause of the problem and the extent of the damage. The physical therapist might also choose to collaborate with your primary health provider. The health provider will conduct other medical tests to rule out other suggestive causes with this combined effort.

Here are some things that the physical therapist will seek to find out from you:

  1. How often do you struggle to maintain your balance?

  2. When you're having trouble with your equilibrium, what do you do?

  3. Is it more difficult for you to keep your balance in dimly lit areas or at night?

  4. Do you seem unsteady or like the room spinning?

  5. In the last year, how often have you had a fall?

  6. Has a fall resulted in a concussion or a trip to the doctor's office or hospital?

  7. Have you altered or curtailed your activities due to the balance issues?

  8. What medications are you now taking?

  9. Have you lately had a visual or ear examination?

  10. Do you sometimes feel dizzy and as though you're about to pass out?

  11. Do you find it challenging to carry out any of your everyday tasks?

  12. How often and what form of workout do you engage in daily?

  13. Are there additional health issues or concerns?

  14. Are you being treated by a physician?

  15. What objectives do you have?

Part of the physical examinations will include:

  • Balance

  • Muscle strength

  • Coordination

  • Movement

  • Visual tracking

Treatment for Balance Disorders

The kind of treatment recommended by a doctor or therapist usually is directly related to the cause of the balance problem. For instance, if the balance disorder is due to some medication, the doctor might give you an alternative to use or adjust the dosage. If an ear infection is a reason for the problem, the physician will also give antibiotics.

In situations where no underlying medical condition is the source of the disorder, the doctor might recommend more natural interventions like:

  • Dietary changes like limiting the intake of alcohol and other caffeinated drinks

  • Exercising

  • Stopping the use of tobacco and other harmful substances

  • Physical therapy

The Role of Physical Therapy in Correcting Balance Problems

Once a physical therapist identifies the cause of the problem, their next move will be to create a treatment program that will:

Boost Muscle Strength

Because they are afraid of falling, many people who have had balance issues opt to live inactive lifestyles. This is counterproductive because a lack of activity and exercise promotes a loss of strength. Including exercises curtailed to increase muscle strength in a person's routine can help them develop and stabilize their muscles, which will improve their balance.

The physical therapist might concentrate on strengthening particular sections of the body that play an integral part in creating balance. These areas include the core (stomach), trunk, and hips. Apart from using static exercises, they might also incorporate therapeutic bands with different strengths to help build your strength.

Prevent or Reduce Falls

It will be crucial to look into specific hazards within your home that might increase the risk to prevent or reduce your risk of falling. It could be loose rugs on the floor, improperly placed objects, or poor lighting. Moreover, you will get advice on how best to use the stairs to avoid tripping and select ergonomic footwear. By addressing these potential causes of falls, then movement might become more manageable.

Handle the Falling Phobia

As you discuss specific questions that reveal more of your balance problems with your therapist, the therapist might offer suggestions or recommendations that will help you overcome the fear of falling. As you gain confidence in your movement ability, then you'll enjoy your daily pursuits all the more. You can thus resume your daily routine with renewed strength and confidence.

Improve Balance

We have both dynamic and static balances. The therapist will give specific exercises to work on each. More to it, you will receive guidance on the strategies you can use to avoid falling whenever something staples you. The therapist might advance to more complex activities as you progress based on your responses.

Improve Movement

In some situations, you could have joint stiffness that impairs your movement. Your therapist will begin with more passive aided exercises to help loosen the stiffness. The more you improve, you will go through active unaided exercises to help improve your movement. The more you advance, the more your mobility skills will improve and thus more confidence on your side.

Increase Flexibility

Incorporating stretches in a treatment regime is one of the best ways of boosting a person's flexibility. With improved flexibility, balancing can become much more manageable. It is thus possible to also work on a person's posture to enhance balance all the more. In the beginning, the stretches might be mild but built on progressively as you advance.

Examples of Common Balance Problems that Physical Therapists Handle

There are various balance disorders that physical therapists can handle. However, here's a look at three common ones and what their treatment entails.

Vestibular Disorders

There are different types of vestibular disorders. One can develop it when one suffers from an injury or illness that affects the brain and the inner ear (vestibular system). The most common symptoms present are loss of balance and dizziness. It could also lead to auditory and visual problems. Other signs include:

  • Instability

  • Feeling as though the ground is moving

  • Wooziness

  • Lightheadedness

  • Spinning

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • Tinnitus

  • Vertigo

  • Swaying

One of the therapies in which physical therapists have skills is VRT, Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy. This form of therapy helps with the balance components within the nervous system. It helps in reducing dizziness, vertigo, fall occurrences, and imbalance.

The primary aim of VRT is to help an individual's brain compensate for the losses in the vestibular system by using other senses like vision. Although it might take time, it ultimately promotes recovery.

Even with VRT, specific techniques would be more appropriate for specific problems. After a clinical examination, the therapist will customize the treatment based on the findings. It might involve:

Gaze Stabilization: It is more suitable for individuals with visual problems when walking, looking around, or reading. The therapist will use exercises that will help you focus on your eyes without feeling dizzy.

Habituation: Some people might experience dizziness when changing positions, moving or experience dizziness when in places that stimulate their vision. With habituation, the therapist will repeat the triggers to these specific symptoms. With time, the body responds positively to these stimuli.

Balance training: It is best for the elderly and individuals who are more susceptible to falls. The therapist's focus will be to help the person be in a better position to go through daily routines with reduced falling risks.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy causes balance problems by damaging nerves that transmit signals from the central nervous system to the entire body. This nerve links muscles, skin, and organs to the brain and the spinal cord.

Some of the symptoms you might experience are:

  • Tingling or numbness

  • Painful hands or feet

  • Muscle weakness

  • Improper balance

  • Reduced or no sensation to pain or temperature changes

The most common treatments for peripheral neuropathy are pain relief and treatment of the underlying ailment causing the symptoms.

Whenever peripheral neuropathy creates balance problems, physical therapy can help relieve pain and control blood sugar levels, reducing the symptoms that cause it.

In general, the physical therapist will assist an individual with exercises such as:

  • Aerobics

  • Balance/Stability

  • Flexibility

The physical therapist could also suggest bracing or orthotics help with rebalancing and teach patients how to maintain proper mobility while enhancing balance.

Weakness in the Lower Extremities

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of four senior citizens will fall per year. Weakness in the lower limbs and difficulties with balance and walking are the reasons for this.

A decrease of strength within your lower limbs can create balance problems due to an injury, aging, or even leading a sedentary lifestyle. Physical treatment, particularly in situations like these, can be incredibly helpful in restoring balance and improving gait.

Workouts that strengthen the lower body safely can help you maintain your balance and reduce your chance of falling. Your physical therapist could assist you by assessing your balance, prescribing exercises specific to your needs, and teaching you how to follow the exercise regimen appropriately.

The following are some exercises to include in the balance retraining plan:

  • Walking on a tightrope

  • Assisted/unassisted flamingo stands

  • Chair leg lifts

Contacting a healthcare expert before beginning the strengthening or balance retraining activities is critical to guarantee you're getting the correct therapy for your balance condition.

Preventing Balance Disorders

Your physical therapist might offer the following recommendations to prevent balance disorders or other associated injuries.

  1. Leading a more active lifestyle: although technological advances are all around us to make our work easy, your therapist might suggest keeping off such and doing most hands-on activities. These might include:

  • Walking to the grocery store

  • Taking some time to swim or cycle

  • Avoid using the dishwasher.

  • Instead of using lifts or escalators, taking the stairs

  1. Keeping up with activities that encourage mobility will improve your strength, flexibility, and even circulation.

  2. Go for regular checkups: It is crucial to go for visual or auditory checkups regularly, and if on any prescription, ensure that it's updated.

  3. When using your medications, be keen on their side effects and if you notice any adverse signs, report to your physician.

  4. If you experience any fall, it is essential to let your physician or physical therapist know. They will give you immediate care based on the cause.

Duration of Balance Therapy

The source of your balance issues will determine the frequency (and length) of your visits to your therapist.

Physical therapy sessions often can last several weeks to some months, occurring about once or twice each week.

Vertigo, for example, usually improves following two to six weeks of physical therapy. Physical treatment may be necessary indefinitely for an individual who has suffered a life-altering injury or severe brain trauma.

Bear in mind that seeing improvements from physical therapy requires time and consistency, so you should not expect your balance to change overnight. In most cases, your physical therapist will give you a set of exercises to do at home. These will go a great way in sustaining your balance and also improve your overall well-being.

Find a Physical Therapist for Balance Problems Near Me

Balance problems can make it challenging to go about daily activities as required. If you have these issues, you do not have to go through the hustle of finding a reputable physical therapy service. At Suarez Physical Therapy, our physical therapists have what it takes to help you regain your balance. We will conduct an in-depth consultation with physical assessments and formulate an individualized treatment plan for you. Call us today at 702-368-6778 if you are in the Las Vegas area.