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Using Science to Improve Your Balance

How FYZICAL - Forest Grove Can Help

 

By Beth Jennings, PT

 

According to a 2016 survey of adults, 12% reported falling sometime in the previous year. While 12% may not sound high, this translates to about 80 million falls. Not all falls cause injuries, of course, but when they do, they are at best disruptive to your life, and at worst debilitating or even fatal.

The human balance system is complex. Learning where you specifically need to focus your balance training will create the most valuable benefits. One way FYZICAL - Forest Grove can help you do that is through balance testing on our Virtualis MotionVR.

Virtualis for Balance Testing

Last month I introduced you to Virtualis MotionVR and the uses of virtual reality in rehabilitation. With the addition of a specialized platform, this system can perform a Computerized Dynamic Posturography (CDP) test, which is used in clinical studies and at specialty balance centers.

A CDP is a six-part test for assessing balance, which can detect where a person’s difficulty or weakness lies within their balance system. When your physical therapist knows where to direct your treatment, you can make better improvements than with a generic balance training program. 

 

An Example of Your Balance System at Work

 

You get up in the middle of the night for a glass of water. In the low light, you step on a large dog toy. Your ankle rolls off the side of it, and after stumbling a bit, you reach to touch the nearby wall, then continue to the kitchen.

Your body detected, interpreted, and corrected for the disruption in balance through a three-step process:

Step 1: The Sensors Collect Information

Vision:  We collect information on the orientation of the walls, ceiling, trees, etc. In the example, your vision reported, “Brain, I can’t see well, but the room seems to be starting to tip.”

 

Touch and position sense: Sensors in our muscles and joints, called proprioceptors, tell us how our body or body parts are oriented. Your ankle and knee proprioceptors reported, “Foot stepped on something, and now it’s tipped to the right, and it’s starting to drag the rest of the body with it.” 

 

Inner ear: Like a construction level or a plumb line, orientation to gravity is detected in part of the inner ear called the vestibular system. This sensor chimes in, “Head is tipping to the right.”

Step 2: The Brain Processes the Information

Our brain receives this information from the senses and decides what to do about it.

The brain determines that a reaction is required because a fall to the right is occurring and sends out orders — “Right foot, lift and step away. Right hand, reach for the wall. Correct! Correct!”

 

Step 3: A Response is Executed

A response occurs with reaction time, muscle strength, attention, flexibility, and other nervous system functions. This is where you stumbled, touched the wall, and continued on your way.

When Working With a Less-Than-Perfect Balance System

What if you had numbness in your feet and detecting that dog toy was slower. The result may have been a fall. Maybe ever since you had that concussion, you notice more problems walking down the stairs at night. Problems can come in many forms.

  • We naturally presume balance can decline as we get older, but we also see balance impairments with:
  • Lower body conditions such as sprains, fractures, amputations, or joint replacements
  • Vertigo and other inner ear disorders
  • Neurological conditions such as neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, head injury, and stroke
  • Glaucoma, blindness, and other visual impairments

 

Testing with Virtualis Can Direct Treatment

A CDP test cannot diagnose a condition, but it provides valuable information so your FYZICAL physical therapist can create a customized program to improve your balance and safety. 

Follow us on Facebook for more information on the Virtualis system and the opening of our Balance Center. Click on Facebook, Twitter, or the email at the top of this post to share it with a friend.

 

Beth Jennings is a freelance writer and physical therapist.

 

References:

Verma SK, Willetts JL, Corns HL, Marucci-Wellman HR, Lombardi DA, Courtney TK (2016) Falls and Fall-Related Injuries among Community-Dwelling Adults in the United States. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150939. 

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