AAPT Can Help with Poor Balance and Risk of Falling
Updated: Oct 13
Diagnosing balance or gait disorders?
Do you ever feel unsteady, as if you may fall over without warming? Does your hip, knee, or other joint pain make it difficult to move? Do you ever experience a “spinning” sensation, even when you are standing perfectly still? If you identify with any of these scenarios, you may be suffering from a balance or gait disorder.
Balance and gait disorders can be both physically and mentally debilitating, and there are several reasons why they may occur. A number of underlying neurological or musculoskeletal disorders can either cause or aggravate a balance/gait disorder. However, these disorders can fortunately be treated through physical therapy. PT treatments can help significantly reduce your symptoms and may even correct your condition altogether.
What are balance and gait disorders?
Balance and gait disorders can be categorized in the same family as functional disorders. They interfere with your ability to keep yourself upright, your normal means of movement, and your positional awareness.
Balance and gait disorders are similar in many ways, but they also have some important differences. Balance disorders affect both physical and mental functionality, since the brain thinks you are moving when you really are not.
Gait disorders are a bit different. They can cause abnormal movements with the way you walk and run, and these abnormal movements can become more exaggerated as you get older.
What causes balance and gait disorders?
There are a large number of reasons why balance and gait disorders may develop. Many balance disorders occur as a result of underlying issues in the vestibular system, which is a delicate collection of fluid-filled chambers and sensory nerves located in the inner ear. The vestibular system is responsible for maintaining your sense of position, also known as “proprioception.”
Some common vestibular conditions that may result in balance disorders include:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV develops when calcium debris breaks off in the inner ear, causing issues with balance.
Injury or ailment. Even if your brain and nervous system are working in harmony with one another, a sudden injury, disease, or other ailment causing muscle weakness can interfere with your balance and make it difficult to keep yourself upright.
Neurological issues. Some neurological issues include stroke, brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease can through your off balance. Essentially, anything that impacts your neurological system can impact your ability to stay on your feet.
Any condition that impairs nerve or muscle function can cause you to walk in an abnormal manner. Therefore, gait disorders can also develop from the symptoms of neurological or neuromuscular issues, much like balance disorders. However, gait problems can also appear as the result of underlying musculoskeletal problems. Common conditions leading to gait disorders include overuse injuries, plantar fasciitis, abnormal foot arches, or uneven muscle support that can make you favor one side of your body more than the other.
If you previously sustained an injury that never healed properly, it could also lead to a gait disorder. This occurs when the internal scar tissue doesn’t heal correctly, causing limitations to the range of motion in your hips, knees, or feet.
How physical therapy helps
Did you know that one out of three adults aged 65 and older fall each year? Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. Our ability to balance when walking or moving can change for a number of reasons. As we age, there is a natural loss of balance due to slowing down of reflexes, muscle weakness and tissue changes. In addition, arthritis in the ankles, knee or hips can affect balance. Furthermore, any neurological changes such as Parkinsons Disease, spinal cord injuries, nerve injuries, back problems and much more can play a role in diminished balance.
Our ability to balance relies mainly on 3 factors. Our ability to perceive movement comes from the nerve sensors in our joints and muscles, our vision and the position of our head in space through the vestibular system in the inner ear. When any one of these factors is not optimum, our ability to balance is affected and our risk for falling greatly increases.
The good news is that there is a lot than can easily be done to improve your ability to balance, which improves your walking and makes the risk of falling significantly less.
How physical therapy helps
Physical therapy is the main treatment for poor balance and reducing the risk of falls. It begins with a thorough evaluation of your walking, balance, coordination, joint movement, range of motion and strength. In the case of neurological conditions, more testing is done to determine visual tracking and your vestibular system function, which contributes to your balance.
After discovering the root cause of your balance difficulties, we program a treatment plan that will improve your ability to balance, walk and negotiate many different uneven terrains such as grass, sand, stairs and more. In addition, if you use a cane or walker, we can instruct you in the proper use of that adaptive equipment.
Physical therapy goes a long way to improving your balance and setting you on the safe path to enjoying activities you love.
Call us today to learn more how we can improve your balance and walking!