Health & Wellness

Balance Awareness

Last week was Balance Awareness Week where healthcare providers across the nation celebrated and educated their patients in regard to balance awareness, fall risks and vestibular disorders. Physical therapists can have a direct impact on helping individuals that have difficulty with balance, are at risk for falling, and those experiencing vertigo and other vestibular disorders. The process of how bodies balance is intricate and often taken for granted.
The ability to balance is controlled by three different systems within the body: the somatosensory system, the visual system and the vestibular system. Our somatosensory system essentially sends information to the brain regarding joint position throughout the body, and it helps to feel the ground beneath the feet. The visual system relays information between the eyes and brain, in terms of balance this system helps to detect uneven surfaces and obstacles that may be in the way. Finally, the vestibular system is a structure, smaller than a quarter, that is located in the inner ear. Within the inner ear there are small “rocks” that move among hair-like cells when the head rotates, moves and changes position. The brain picks up on how the head is moving, and the positioning of the head relative to gravity based on the movement of these small hair-like cells. Any injury or abnormality with these systems results in difficulty balancing, vestibular disorders and fall risks. With the inherent body-brain connection, as illustrated in the explanation of the body systems involved with balance, physical therapy and other precautions can be useful tools in treating and managing loss of balance.
Loss of balance contributes to the staggering statistics heard regarding falls, broken bones and other physical ailments and injuries. In addition to seeing a PT and a healthcare team, there are ways to be proactive in preventing falls if one is at risk. It is important to create a safe environment in the home. This includes having rooms well lit, as well as night lights in bed rooms and hallways. Decluttering the home is another way to prevent falls, the less there is to trip on the better! For those using an assistive device, such as a cane or walker, it is important to know that the home is conducive to the proper use of the assistive device. If there are tight corners in rooms and hallways, it is crucial to make sure there is enough space to safely walk through without catching oneself, or the walker or cane, on a corner or furniture nearby. Removing loose rugs or reducing the number of rugs in the home is another environmental safety precaution that can be taken to reduce the risk of falls.
In addition to making changes around the house, there are personal changes and habits that can be made to further prevent falls. Though pets are cute, cuddly and usually harmless, not being aware of pets when standing up and walking around can present a fall risk. Knowing where a pet is to ensure they are not in your path of travel will save everyone involved from pain and possible injury. Further, it is important to be mindful of footwear, not only for the sake of your feet, but also for fall prevention. Comfortable, supportive shoes that have grip to prevent slipping are a must. Finally, a simple adjustment is taking a moment to pause after standing. This pause allows blood pressure to normalize and should decrease dizziness that often happens when standing quickly and immediately transition into walking.
For more information about balance, the vestibular system and fall prevention, talk to a physician or schedule with a physical therapist who can do a balance assessment, and help develop a strength and balance program to fit specific needs. Balance can contribute to protecting overall health.



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