Have your found yourself deciding to avoid activities such as golfing or hiking because you are worried about what may happen if you fall over? You aren't along, but that doesn't mean that you need to resign yourself to this emotion! Here, our Manotick physiotherapists explain how we can help to address balance issues.
It's no secret that as we grow older, the idea of falling over and injuring ourselves becomes more and more intimidating. An ill-timed slip at the wrong place can cause even the healthiest and fittest person to hurt themselves, break bones or dislocate joints.
In fact, studies show that 34% of Canadians over the age of 65 report a fear of falling and nearly half of those people report that they let that fear impact their day-to-day life.
However, you don't need to resign yourself to being wary of falls for the rest of your life! In fact, avoiding situations where you may have to repeatedly engage your balance and coordination may make it more likely that you fall. This is because there are a series of muscles and organ systems that help to govern your balance that need consistent engagement to stay strong and effective.
What helps me keep my balance?
Our ability to balance ourselves relies on 3 systems and sense: a sense called proprioception, a fluid-filled organ called our vestibular system and our sense of sight.
Proprioception is the sense that allows us to unconsciously be aware of our muscle movements, to know our body parts' locations without looking at them and to be able to move our body without having to consciously think about it. This sense helps us take sure steps and adjust our weight unconsciously to keep our balance.
The vestibular system is our body's way to track our motion, head orientation and spatial orientation. It's how we know up from down and how we know how to place our bodies when our situation is changing (this can be whenever we take a step or if we are standing on a rocking ship in the middle of a rough lake).
Of the three, perhaps our vision is the most obvious. We can look at our feet and the ground we are walking on to make sure we are standing properly and stepping in the right places.
All three of these bodily functions contribute to our balance. And, when they aren't consistently used, they can actually become less effective - like any muscle. By limiting your daily activities, you're actually contributing to the difficulty that your brain experiences when it comes to the signals being sent by each sense.
How can physiotherapy help me maintain and restore my balance?
Generally speaking, restoring your sense of balance and maintaining it are ongoing efforts. Because you are trying to give your brain and systems as much "practice" as possible with keeping your balance in safe environments, one of the most common ways of helping to restore your sense of balance and then maintain it involves specialized exercises designed to engage your sense of balance without putting you at risk of a fall.
As with any physiotherapy treatment, our Manotick physical therapists will start you out small and slow with prescribed balance and coordination exercises. With prescribed exercises and professional guidance, we will be able to help you regain your balance and your confidence in participating in the activities you love.
What kinds of exercises does a physiotherapy clinic prescribe to help with balance issues?
You should always consult with a physiotherapist before you start conducting any exercises designed to help maintain and restore your balance. Physical therapists will be able to assess your unique case and prescribe activities that will work best to help you with your balance.
Not each exercise is going to be useful in each case. And the last thing you want to do is accidentally do an activity that requires more balance than you have. This could result in injury. With all of that being said, here are some of examples of the kinds of exercises our Manotick physical therapists may prescribe to you in order to support the recovery and maintenance of your balance.
- Stand straight up with your feet together and eyes closed for 30 seconds. If you can, do this for a combined 5 minutes throughout the day. If this is too challenging, you can start with your feet slightly apart.
- Stand straight up on one foot and with your eyes open for 30 seconds. This should be done at least 3 times on each leg every day.
- Stand straight up with one foot in front of the other (like on a balance beam; or staggered if that is too narrow) for 30 seconds. This should be done each way, several times a day.
- If this gets too easy, challenge yourself further in any of these positions (throw a ball against a wall; move your arms; stand on a different surface).