Have you noticed that you are opting out of activities that you love like golf, hikes or dances because you are worried about what may happen if you took a fall? You aren't alone! And, that doesn't mean you need to resign yourself from your favourite activities. Here, our Orleans physiotherapists explain how we can help you to improve your balance and make sure that your worries about falling don't hold you back.
As we age, the idea of falling over and injuring ourselves may become more and more threatening. An ill-time topple at an inopportune place may cause even the fittest and healthiest people to become injured, break bones, dislocate their joints or sustain muscle injuries.
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 make peace with being wary of falls for the rest of your life. Actually, avoiding situations where you may have to engage your balance may make you more likely to fall when you do have to use your balance in the future. This is because our bodies use a series of organs and muscles to manage our balance. And they require consistent engagements in order to remain strong and serve us well.
What helps me keep my balance?
Our ability to remain balanced relies on 3 different senses and systems, our vision, a sense called proprioception and series of fluid-filled organs in our inner ears called the 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.
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.
Lastly, the vestibular system is our body's means of tracking out motion, spatial orientation, and the orientation of our heads. It is the way that we can tell up from down and how we know where and how to place our bodies in order to accomodate for a changing situation (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 bodily functions contribute to our balance. And when they aren't consistently engaged, they can become less effective. By limiting the activities you do that engage these three systems in your body, you actually make it much harder for your brain to interpret the signals it is being sent.
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 you are trying to give your brain, muscles and systems as uch practice as you can with keeping your balance, one fo the most common ways to help restore your sense of balance and then continue to maintain it involves specialized exercises that are designed to engage your sense of balance without putting you at risk of a fall.
As with any physiotherapy treatment, our Orleans 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 ask your physical therapist before you begin conducting any exercises that are designed to maintain and restore your balance. Physiotherapists are able to assess your condition and unique case in order to prescribe activities and exercises that will work best to help you maintain your balance.
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 Orleans physiotherapists may prescribe you to help with your balance issues:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).