When thinking about physical therapy exercises, many people consider strengthening and stretching exercises—the common exercises that many people do at the gym. But what about balance? Did you know your physical therapist can help improve your balance with specific exercises?
If you have fallen, then you understand how important it is to keep your balance as you walk or sit. Your physical therapist is a movement expert who can help you improve your balance so you can maintain safe functional mobility.
So who may benefit from balance exercises in the PT clinic? People who may engage in balance exercises might include:
When you first meet your physical therapist, he or she may assess your balance. If it is determined that your balance is impaired, a treatment strategy may be developed that includes exercises to help improve your balance to maximize your safe functional mobility.
Three systems in your body work together to help you stay upright with good balance. These include:
First, your visual system works to provide your brain information about where your body is in relation to your environment. People with impaired vision may have balance difficulty due to the inability to see exactly where they are. When assessing your balance, your physical therapist may ask about your vision and if you wear corrective lenses. Making changes to your vision or corrective lenses falls outside of the scope of practice for physical therapists, but your PT may recommend you visit an eye doctor to ensure that your eyes are working optimally.
Your vestibular system is located in you inner ear, and it works to provide your brain information about the position of your head. The vestibular structures (you have one on each side of your head) act like tiny levels. They are filled with fluid, and as you move and turn your head, the fluid rushes to one side of the vestibular structure and activates nerves there. These nerves then communicate with your brain, telling it the position of your head. Damage or an impairment with your vestibular system may result in vertigo, or spinning sensations, as you move your head.
Your proprioceptive system is a group of specialized nerve endings in your muscles, tendons, and joints of your body. These nerves communicate with your brain, telling it when and how a muscle is contracting, as well as information about position sense. An injury, surgery, or a neurological condition may impair your proprioception, leading to decreased balance.
Your physical therapist can assess these three systems and determine the factors that may lead to impaired balance. Then, he or she can prescribe specific exercises to help improve your balance.
Your body can change and grow in response to specific balance exercises, and this can lead to improved balance and safe functional mobility.
Four simple balance exercises that your PT might prescribe include the following. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting these, or any other exercise, for your balance:
Your physical therapist may use special pieces of exercise equipment to help challenge your balance as well. These may include:
The key to improving your balance is to create situations that challenge your balance. This helps your body's systems adapt and change, hopefully leading to improved balance and muscular control.
A word of caution: Creating situations that challenge your balance may lead to falls while you are doing the exercise. You should only perform balance exercises that are safe for you to do. Working closely with your physical therapist can ensure that you do the right exercises that challenge your balance while still maintaining safety.
If you have fallen or feel like your balance is impaired, you should check in with your doctor for an assessment. Ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist for a complete balance evaluation. Your PT can check things out and get you started on the path to improving your balance. You may also be able to visit your physical therapist via direct access; no doctor's referral is needed, so if you feel like you want to learn some new balance exercises, just call your physical therapist and explain your needs.
Many people don't even realize their balance is impaired. Some athletes and weekend warriors have repetitive strain or overuse injuries, and one variable that may be causing the injury is impaired balance and proprioception. If you are experiencing pain and limited motion, your physical therapist can assess your balance as part of a comprehensive evaluation and prescribe balance exercises as part of your rehab.
Working to improve your balance can be an important component of your overall physical therapy exercise program. It can help improve your mobility, and it may provide an important boost to your confidence when walking so you can minimize your risk of falling and enjoy your normal everyday activities.