Have you noticed that you've been opting out of activities like games of golf, hiking or dancing because you're worried about falling over? You aren't alone. But, that doesn't mean you won't be able to do these activities again! Here, our Stittsville physical therapists explain how we can help you restore your balance and make sure the fear of falling doesn't hold you back.
As we age, the idea of falling over and injuring ourselves may become more and more threatening. An ill-timed topple at the wrong okace may cause serious and lasting damage to even the fittest and healthiest people.
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.
You don't need to resign yourself to avoiding activities you love just because of worries about falling though! In fact, avoiding situations where you need to engage your balance and coordination can contribute to the risk of falling. 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 balance relies on three different senses and systems: our vision, proprioception and a fluid-filled organ in our inner ears called our vestibular system.
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.
Our proprioception is the sense that allows us to be unconsciously aware of our muscle movements and know where our body parts are without having to look at them. This sense also helps us to take sure and stable steps, adjusting our weight to keep our balance as we walk or jog.
Finally, 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).
All three of these body functions contribute to our balance. And, when they aren't consistently engaged, they may become less effective. By limiting the activities you do engage in that call on these three systems, you actually make it more difficult for your brain to effectively interpret the signals they are sending.
How can physiotherapy help me maintain and restore my balance?
Generally speaking, restoring your sense of balance and maintaining it are going to be ongoing efforts. Since the goal should be to give your brain and senses as much practice as possible by keeping your balance n safe environments, one of the best ways of restoring your sense of balance involves exercises prescribed to you to help engage your balance without risking a fall.
As with any physiotherapy treatment, our Stittsville physiotherapists 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?
Firstly, you should always speak with your physiotherapist before conducting any exercises to maintain and restore your balance. Physical therapitss can assess your unique case and prescribe exercises that will be best for your needs.
Not every exercise is useful in every case. The last thing you want is to accidentally do an exercise that requires more balance than you have and hurt yourself in the process. With all of that being said, here are some examples of the kinds of activities our Stittsville physiotherapists may prescribe you to help with your balance issues:
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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).