Balance: An Upright Conversation
One of the most common physical problems that are associated with the aging process is the gradual decline in a person’s balance. Most of my patients just attribute this as a natural part of the aging process. Some patients believe that they have undergone a disease process and that their sense of balance is irreversibly gone or diminished. The answer is that both of those patients are wrong and that there is good news.
Sure, there are certain situations such as a severe cerebrovascular accident (stroke) or other brain injuries, where there is damage that can’t be fixed. However, just because something can not be completely fixed or reversed, that does not mean that it can not be improved or modified. The big take-away that every person that reads this article should have, is that with practice, you balance can be improved. That your balance is fluid, meaning that it is constantly changing. Your balance is not a “if it’s gone, then it’s gone” situation. It is something that can always be sharpened, and usually in significant measures. Your balance always has the capacity for improvement.
Your balance is actually the collaborative effort of several different systems in your body and there are multiple contributors. Your vision, muscle tension, inner ears, and pressure sensors in your skin all contribute to you body’s sense of balance.
The truth is that balance training should be a regular part of any healthy exercise program. Your physical therapist is uniquely qualified to help you improve your balance. Every patient’s treatment regimen varies, but there some recurring themes. Most patients will receive therapy that has the goal of improving a patient’s flexibility, increasing their lower body strength and then performing specific exercises that will improve a patient’s ability to perform balance-specific tasks, such as standing on one leg.
When being evaluated by a physical therapist, you will undergo certain balance tests. These tests are being performed because, depending on your performance, there is a strong correlation to an increased risk of falling. Falls are number one preventable cause of death in adults age 65 and higher. Your physical therapist can help you lower your risk and maintain your function and independence throughout your senior years.
So please, keep your head up. There is hope. And walking with your head down is the quickest way to see your therapist for an injury, rather than to simply restore you balance and confidence.
By Dr. Garry Kushnir, PT, DPT