Something that most people don’t think about on a regular basis is balance problems. Often times we think that it comes with age, which is true, but there are younger people that also suffer from balance problems, and I think it is important that we all understand what causes them and how it feel for those who have them.
Basically someone with a balance problem has trouble maintaining a stable/upright position when standing, walking, and sometimes even sitting. Older people are at a higher risk of having balance problems; 75% of Americans older than 70 years are diagnosed as having “abnormal” balance. It is also a fact that older women are more likely than older men to develop balance problems, although the difference between the genders is small.
What are Balance Problems?
A balance problem exists when an individual has difficulty maintaining a stable and upright position. There are many things that can cause balance problems, including:
– Muscle weakness
– Joint stiffness
– Inner ear problems
– Lack of activity or a sedentary lifestyle
– Simple aging
Balance problems can also be caused by medical conditions, such as the following:
– Parkinson’s disease
– Multiple sclerosis
– Brain injury
– Spinal cord injury
– Cognitive diseases
Balance problems can also occur when 1 or more of 4 body systems is not working properly:
– Vision: Resulting from age, eye tracking problems of eye diseases.
– Inner ear: Caused by trauma, aging, poor nutrition or disease.
– Muscular system: Due to lack of flexibility, exercise or sedentary lifestyle.
– Awareness of one’s own body position (called “proprioception”)
It is important to understand that the brain coordinates impulses from the eye, inner ear, and body-position senses, and sends signals to the muscular system to move and make adjustments to order to maintain balance. The problems arise when one or more of the senses is not sending correct signals to the brain, or when the muscular system is not able to carry out the necessary movements to maintain balance.
How does it feel to have balance problems?
Along with knowing what cause balance problems I think it is very important to be able to spot them in others – noticing when someone is suffering from this problem could lead to them getting the help they need before something bad happens.
A person with balance problems will often trip, sway while standing, stumlbe, experience dizziness, vertigo, and will fall more easily than others.
Although a person’s “static” balance may be fine when standing still or only performing a single task at a time, “dynamic” balance problems may become apparent when the person is moving about or trying to do more than 1 thing at a time. For example: if they are walking, while turning the head to talk to another person, or when there is not much light.
The sad thing is that balance problems can make a person afraid to perform simple daily activities. As a result, they may lose muscle strength and become frail because they avoid strenuous or challenging activities. A person who has balance problems may start to feel frustration about the condition, which could in turn lead to depression.
How are balance problems diagnosed?
If you decide to see your physical therapist first, he/she will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health history. Your physical therapist will also ask you detailed questions about your condition, such as:
– How often do you experience problems with your balance?
– What are you doing when you experience balance problems?
– Is your balance worse at night time or in dark rooms?
– Does the room spin, or do you feel off-balance?
– How many times have you fallen in the past year?
– Have you suffered injuries from falling?
– Have you changed or limited your daily activities because of your balance problems?
– What medications do you take?
– Have you had a vision or ear check up recently?
– How much, and what kind of daily exercise do you get?
– Do you have any other medical conditions or problems?
Your physical therapist perform motion, strength, coordination, visual tracking, and balance tests to assess your overall physical ability, and may also collaborate with your physician or other health care providers in order to rule out any underlying conditions that may exist.
So – now that you know what balance problems are, what causes them and how to diagnose them you are armed with the knowledge to keep yourself, and your loved ones, safe from falls and injury.
Please check back next week – as I will be publishing part two of this series which will focus on how to prevent these problems, and how a physical therapist can help get you back on track.
In the mean time if you have any questions – or think you might be suffering from balance problems – please do not hesitate to leave a comment below, call us at 201-585-7300 or fill out our contact form online.