People of all ages can experience a fall that leads to injuries ranging from minor bruises to head trauma and even death, especially in older adults. About 3 million older adults are treated in the emergency room for fall-related injuries, and of these, about 800,000 must be hospitalized.
Even if a person has not experienced a fall, the risk can still reduce their quality of life. Fears of falling can lead to anxiety and loss of independence. A person may limit their movement or social interactions, which can negatively affect both physical and mental health.
Understanding what causes falls and loss of balance can help you reduce your own risk of falling. This can raise your quality of life, encourage independence, and help preserve your physical and mental health.
Different organizations may have their own definitions of what is considered a “fall.” In general, a “fall” means that a person unintentionally came to rest on a lower level. Besides the ground or floor, this can also mean a chair, table, or step.
Even if a person does not slip and fall completely, it can still be considered a “fall.” For example, if a person loses their balance and someone else helps them remain upright, medical professionals still count that as a fall, even if there was no injury.
When there is an external force, such as one person pushing another person down, it does not count as a fall.
Falling occurs when the body’s balance systems are disrupted. There are three main balance systems:
The brain uses input from all three systems to send information to the different parts of the body involved in balance.
Sometimes, different sources may send conflicting information. For example, the eyes may incorrectly perceive motion when the body is actually standing still. The brain may be able to correct this conflicting information in time to prevent falling, but sometimes a person may lose their balance and fall.
With age, the body’s ability to adapt to conflicting information can weaken. This can reduce reflexes and general agility, ultimately leading to a fall if balance is lost or altered.
Many different things can reduce balance and make a person more likely to slip and fall. These can be physical conditions, behaviors, or environmental influences.
Vestibular disorders commonly cause balance problems that can lead to falls. Vestibular disorders may result from disease or injury in the inner ear or certain parts of the brain.
Vestibular disorders can cause many side effects, such as:
Vestibular disorders can occur in individuals at any age. While vestibular issues significantly impact older adults, they are increasingly reported in children. This can impair a child’s motor development and balance.
Other physical conditions and risk factors can affect balance and increase fall risk. These include:
Different behavioral or environmental factors may affect balance. Drug and alcohol use, or lack of sleep, can cause dizziness that may reduce balance. Certain clothing, such as unsupportive shoes, or environmental factors, such as uneven floors in the home, can cause someone to trip or slip and fall.
Physical therapy is the best way to improve your strength and balance in the long term. However, there are ways to improve balance and reduce your fall risk at home.
Brian Werner, PT, MPT, FYZICAL’s National Balance Director, suggests the following home exercises to improve balance and reduce dizziness:
Try and do these exercises twice a day for maximum effect.
Home exercises and fall prevention techniques can significantly improve balance and reduce the risk of slipping and falling. However, physical therapy and vestibular rehab can offer long-lasting solutions.
Vestibular rehab, also known as vestibular rehabilitation therapy or vestibular therapy, is a highly specialized form of physical therapy that helps to address and resolve symptoms of vestibular dysfunction or disorders. This includes:
Vestibular rehab can help people function and feel better, whether they are experiencing temporary symptoms or permanent damage.
FYZICAL uses a Vestibular/Balance Retraining Physical Therapy model that helps reduce and even eliminate many symptoms that contribute to balance and fall risk. This model can address vertigo, disequilibrium, motion sensitivity, visual instability, and lightheadedness to reduce the risk for future falls.
The vestibular rehab program at FYZICAL has three primary aims:
If one part of your balance system is injured, your brain tends to overcompensate with the other two balance systems. FYZICAL’s vestibular and balance therapy program uses specifically prescribed movements to initiate, restart, and complete your body’s natural healing process.
Balance therapy also combines strength, cardio, and flexibility to encourage your overall health. Working on your balance with physical therapy and vestibular rehab can make you stronger and more agile at any age, improving your health and confidence.
The benefits of combined physical therapy and vestibular rehab include:
The first step in FYZICAL’s vestibular and balance therapy program is an initial consultation and evaluation to determine your specific symptoms, conditions, and needs.
Then, the FYZICAL Physical Therapist and Physical Therapist Assistants will work with you to create a Plan of Care.
During therapy, you will complete various balance, gaze stability, and general conditioning and strengthening exercises to improve your balance.
Some people experience a temporary increase in dizziness while performing these exercises. This is actually what you want! Just as building strength can make your muscles sore, you may also experience imbalance and dizziness as you work on balance retraining.
Each time you complete a balance exercise, you are training your brain to re-learn and improve how to maintain equilibrium, stabilize your eyes during head and body movement, and normalize balance reaction. As you progress in your vestibular therapy plan, you will see your dizziness improve and even resolve. Patience is important here!
Your physical therapy team may periodically update your home exercises and perform reevaluations to check your progress. Finally, your team will help to discharge you from therapy.
The experts at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers can offer the most effective solution for balance and vestibular patients. Our clinicians receive world-class training from vestibular dysfunction and balance experts.
While many physical therapists may treat balance based on what they “feel” is right, FYZICAL therapists offer a customized program based on research and evidence. This takes the guesswork out of your balance program and gives you a progressive framework with a clear direction based on your specific conditions and needs.
Just as physicians prescribe a specific dose of medication for their patients, FYZICAL “prescribes” an appropriate balance and vestibular therapy program to our clients.
The best part? You can receive a consultation and physical therapy sessions without needing a referral.
Contact one of our many convenient locations to request an appointment and take the first step toward a healthier, more confident, better balanced life!