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Feb 06, 2023

Physical Therapy for Balance Problems

Physical therapy for balance

Are you struggling with balance? Do you worry about falling? As movement experts, a physical therapist could be exactly what you need. Physical therapy for balance can help you gain the strength and confidence you need to live life better.

Why You May Need to Train Your Balance

Many people, especially older adults, develop balance problems over time. It is a common reason for reaching out to a doctor. Balance is not a simple “given,” it’s something your body has to consistently practice. Fortunately, balance is a skill that can improve with training at any age.

You may benefit from physical therapy for balance therapy if:

  • You are unable to move confidently from one area to the next, both indoors and outdoors
  • You have fallen in the past
  • You feel dizzy, lightheaded, or as though the room is moving around you when you stand
  • You had a stroke, injury, or illness which left you with weakness or sensory changes
  • You are recovering from a musculoskeletal injury or concussion and plan for a full return to athletic activities

What Causes Balance Problems?

Balance problems often develop when one or more of the following systems is not functioning properly:

  • Visual – distorted vision such as blurring, double vision, and visual field loss Musculoskeletal – a decline in muscle strength and flexibility
  • Vestibular – inner ear dysfunction
  • Circulatory – lightheadedness when going from sitting to standing 
  • Proprioceptive – decreased awareness of body position 

The brain gathers information from each of these systems to manage balance. If one or more of these signals is functioning abnormally or missing, your body has more difficulty with sensing movement and responding before it is too late.

Can Balance Problems Be Prevented?

There are many actions you can take to prevent balance problems, starting with addressing potential underlying causes. For example, if you are experiencing dizziness when standing up and have a history of heart issues, consulting your physician to ensure your condition is properly managed may improve symptoms. A healthy diet and proper hydration can improve some causes of dizziness and slow the progression of diabetes-related vision problems and neuropathy. Some helpful dietary changes include reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption.

Treating vision problems is critical to improving overall stability. Regular visits to your optometrist can ensure your prescription is updated and conditions such as cataracts are properly managed.

Routine exercise helps balance by keeping your bones strong, joints flexible and muscles strong. Physical activity such as running for exercise, taking regular walks, or participating in exercise classes can also help manage other conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, and even memory loss.

Early treatment makes many of these balance interventions more effective so do not delay on seeking appropriate care.

Can Physical Therapy Help My Balance?

For many people, physical therapy for balance is an ideal treatment option at any stage of disorder development. You should visit a physical therapist if you have been diagnosed with a balance disorder or you believe that you may be struggling with one. You may also consult with a physical therapist as a preventative tool, especially if you are at a greater risk for these disorders.

Physical therapy can help with many types of balance disorders, including those that stem from:

Your physical therapist will partner with your primary care doctor to address any underlying medical conditions contributing to your balance issues and ensure maximum treatment effect. For those without an underlying medical disorder or those who need additional supportive care, physical therapy can help you to improve your safety and stability.

Physical therapy can help reduce and prevent falls in a number of ways including:

  • Increasing your strength and flexibility
  • Improving the quality of your walk
  • Resolving dizziness
  • Training and practicing your body’s response to normal movement in a safe environment
  • Providing education on modifications to your home or activities to reduce your fall risk 

Physical Therapy Treatments That Can Help

Seeing a physical therapist for balance disorders could help improve your quality of life and give you the confidence to do more of the things you enjoy. Here are a few ways physical therapy treatment could help you.

Improving Vestibular Disorder

People with a vestibular disorder may experience many symptoms including vertigo, lightheadedness, unsteady walk, or tinnitus. Physical therapy can be very effective in the treatment of imbalance due to vestibular disorders. Treatments could include:

  • Canalith repositioning maneuvers – for those with a certain form of vertigo, your therapist may guide you through a series of movements to restore the position of inner ear structures and resolve your symptoms.
  • Habituation and compensation – for those who experience dizziness while they are walking, driving, or moving their head, treatment may focus on repeating specific movements that recreate symptoms in order to decrease your body’s sensitivity to movement.
  • Balance training – practicing difficult circumstances in a safe environment allows your body to learn how to appropriately react and helps you perform everyday tasks with less risk.

Improving Lower Extremity Strength

If you are struggling with leg weakness, you may be able to see significant benefits from physical therapy. Treatment may include:

  • Exercising the muscles of the lower body to build up strength, especially those that help to correct your balance when you start to wobble.
  • Restoring motion to joints. Injury and avoidance of normal activities can result in joint stiffness. Your hips, knees, and ankles must move in order to allow your muscles to push and pull you back to a safe position.
  • Improving posture and correcting form to make movements safer and more efficient.

Improving Peripheral Neuropathy

Those who have muscle weakness, pain, numbness, or tingling in their feet from neuropathy may benefit from physical therapy through interventions including:

  • Targeted exercises to reverse muscular wasting
  • Balance activities that emphasize use of unaffected balance systems and maximize response to information that is still available from your feet
  • Education on proper footwear and skin care

Finding the Help You Need

Rock Valley Physical Therapy provides exceptional support in a patient-first environment. We encourage you to reach out to us today to learn more about incorporating physical therapy for balance disorder improvement in your life. As the largest therapist-led organization in the U.S., we’re ready to help you gain the confidence you desire.