by: Jocelyn Babcock PT, DPT ~ First Coast Rehabilitation
Your balance system is much like a choir: a combination of vision, proprioception (your sense of where your limbs are in space) and the vestibular system (information from the inner ear). Information from your eyes, your brain, and your vestibular system integrates to keep you upright. This helps you navigate through your environment, gauging how far you are from objects and preventing you from falling. When one part is out of tune, the others can usually compensate.
Balance can be affected by a decrease in strength, a more sedentary lifestyle, vestibular impairments, vision changes, decreased sensation or proprioception, and dizziness. A physical therapist can assess the cause and develop a plan to get you back to the things you love to do, safely. Having good balance and motor planning is important in keeping independent and healthy longer.
Often as people age, vision can get weaker, mobility can lessen, both effecting balance, putting people at an increased risk for falling. Out of fear of falling, many people stop doing their preferred activities or favorite past-times, like walking on the beach or playing golf.
Another part of balance is how we receive information from sensors in our joints and muscles. This is called proprioception. This information tells us how high we need to lift out feet in order to clear the floor with each step. Proprioception can be hindered by muscles and joint tightness but can be re-trained with stretching and exercise.
A third component of balance comes from the Vestibular system, which is in the inner ear. Vestibular Dysfunction is fairly common and may be the reason for poor balance. Very small crystals in the ear tell your brain which way is up regardless of position. Sometimes these crystals become displaced, provide faulty information, and often results in vertigo. Vestibular Dysfunction may also be caused by decreased input from the nerves of the inner ear. In either case, a faulty vestibular system may distort a sense of uprightness resulting in a higher risk for falls. Simple tests performed by your physician or physical therapist can tell you right away if your vestibular system is working properly. Treatment may consist of specific exercises to retrain the inner ear, balance and proprioception training, and treatments designed to relocate displaced crystrals (otocona).
Falls are the leading cause of injury in people over 65 years old. If loss of balance, fear of falling or dizziness is a concern, a vestibular trained therapist can help decrease the symptoms by assessing the crystals in your inner ear and helping reposition them through specific maneuvers/exercises.
If you are falling, have come close to falling, have a fear of falling or just wondering if you can improve your balance, First Coast Rehab has therapists that can help and providing free balance screenings at 209 Blackford Way on Wed, Jan 13, 12:30-1:45.
Please call for a time slot (904-907-1122).