Balance refers to an individual’s ability to maintain a stable and upright position.
Balance problems can make it difficult for people to maintain this position when standing, walking, and can affect your ability to function in normal activities of daily living.
Women are more likely to develop balance problems than men, although the difference is small.
How Does The Balance System Work?
Good balance requires a number of body systems to be functioning well.
The body’s balance system works through receiving feedback from these three main sensory systems:
- Visual system –The visual system provides the brain with visual feedback and information on where the body is in space.
- Vestibular system – The vestibular system is found within the inner ear. This system works with the visual system to allow the individual to focus on objects whilst moving. Movement of the fluid within the inner ear provides the brain with information on the speed and direction of the movement the body is making.
- Proprioceptive system – Proprioceptors are the specialised sensory receptors found in muscles, tendons and joints. Proprioceptors detect subtle changes in the environment, movement, position, tension and force. This enables the brain to establish a picture of where the body is in space.
The brain receives input from the eyes, inner ear, and proprioceptors, and coordinates to sends signals to move or make adjustments to maintain balance.
If one or more of the systems is not sending correct signals to the brain, or if the muscular system cannot carry out the necessary movements, a person may not be able to maintain or correct their balance.
What Are Balance Problems?
A balance problem exists when an individual has difficulty maintaining a stable and upright position.
A person with balance problems may experience tripping, swaying, stumbling, dizziness, and/or falling.
Although a person’s ‘static’ balance may be unaffected when standing still or only performing a single task, ‘dynamic’ balance problems may become apparent when the person is moving or trying to do more than 1 task at a time (i.e. walking and turning the head), or when there is low light.
What Are the Causes of Balance Problems?
A number of factors can cause balance problems, these may include:
- Neurological conditions (such as stroke or Parkinson’s Disease)
- Inner ear problems
- Visual problems
- Respiratory problems
- Cardiovascular problems
- Muscle and joint issues
- Certain medications
- Balance problems may also be caused by other medical conditions
People can experience balance and mobility problems without any of these conditions. This can be due to the normal deterioration with age (which actually starts after the age of 30).
Much of the deterioration in balance attributed to age or health conditions is actually due to physical inactivity and a reduction in strength and mobility.
How Can Physiotherapy Help With Balance Problems?
Physiotherapists can assess your balance and help to establish the causes of any problems identified.
Your physiotherapist can develop an appropriate exercise program to help improve strength, balance and function in people with balance problems.
The exercises should involve the aspects of balance and mobility the individual finds difficult. It is important that exercises to improve balance are able to be completed safely but are difficult enough to lead to improvement.
Exercises will be targeted to the individuals’ level and modified as they improve.
What Can You Do At Home?
Exercises at home can include:
- Exercises on different terrain
- Exercises on different bases of support e.g. on one foot, on a pillow
- Exercises with eyes closed
- Exercises that are out of your base of support e.g. reaching
- Exercises that are out of your base of support whilst moving (dynamic exercises)
If you feel you would benefit from a physiotherapy assessment and a balance exercise program, you can arrange an appointment or contact us for further information.