By Dr. Adam M Cramer, PT, DPT
As the weather starts to change, the surfaces that we walk on can become more slippery. Falls are much more common and can result in a variety of injuries and disabilities. Falls cost our healthcare system and tax payers an estimated $500 million a year1. This does not include costs associated to the individual, like disability, dependence, unemployment and side effects of inactivity. Falls and loss of balance can occur with anyone at any age, but are most common with individuals 65 years and older2. There are a multitude of reasons why we fall, including decreases in strength and coordination, neuropathy of the feet, vision changes, low light environments and lack of general physical conditioning.
Balance is the ability to maintain control of a particular body position while performing a given task with minimal postural sway2. This could be achieved simply by sitting at a table upright with your back off of the chair, standing on one leg, performing a squat/lunge or riding a bike. Good muscle control reduces energy demands and minimizes fatigue, thereby reducing injury risk. To perform efficient movements across a variety of activities and tasks, we need to be able to maintain control of our body positioning during static and dynamic activities while implementing visual feedback strategies3. Static balance is maintaining balance while standing still and dynamic balance is maintaining balance while moving. An example of using dynamic-visual feedback strategies includes using the Nintendo Wii balance board and gaming system with direct supervision and training from a licensed physical therapist. By improving your static and dynamic balance, you will be able to perform any activity longer, reduce your risk for falls and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Everything we do relies heavily on our ability to balance, yet maintaining physical balance skills is one of the most underrated aspects of well-being and one of the easiest to improve upon. As we age, we gradually start to lose our muscle strength, vision and sensory perception. All of these things contribute to our ability to balance effectively and safely. As a result of the general aging process, our mobility can be compromised and lack of mobility can lead to falling, which could result in injury and hospitalization.
The good news is that your physical balance can improve fast! Balance is a learned skill that can be maintained and improved by participating in a physical therapy balance program. Balance exercises can strengthen your proprioception, which basically means by performing exercises tailored to our own physical needs it can help the body to better position your muscles and allow you to sense where your body needs to be without looking. In addition, practicing balance builds muscle and increases range of motion in the joints, which helps distribute weight evenly, creating overall stability and reducing risk for falls4. Not only will your balance improve by performing balance exercises but it will also increase your bone density, improve circulation, improve ability to walk without a cane or walker and improve brain functioning5.
If you want to continue to do the things that you love in life, from fishing and golfing, to just walking and enjoying nature, then you have to work at improving your balance and strength because it only takes one misstep to keep you from doing what you love. Call MyoFit Clinic at 440-632-1007 or 440-286-1007 for a consultation with our Doctor of Physical Therapy!
Dr. Adam M. Cramer, PT, DPT, is a licensed physical therapist, pain specialist and owner of MyoFit Clinic, 14950 S. Springdale Ave., Middlefield (44062). Article sources are available at MyoFitClinic.com.