Fight the Fall: Having Good Balance is a Critical Component of Healthy Aging
This blog about balance therapy techniques to prevent falls was written by Blayne Liparoto, PT, CPAVE, CWcHP.
Having good balance is a critical component of healthy aging. Everyday activities like the following require subtle shifts in your body’s weight distribution.
- Reaching for your cup of coffee
- Putting on your shoes
- Getting up from a chair
A healthy sense of balance allows you to hold your position. It also allows you to move at will during these weight fluctuations without falling.
Gravity is constantly pulling you downward. This creates the tendency to fall. However, your ability to balance prevents this from happening.
Balance control is a complex physiological process and, just as with muscles, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
As the body ages, muscle strength, joint range of motion, and reaction time all decrease. These factors may lead to balance dysfunction– a factor linked to falls among older adults.
Falls from poor balance can cause serious, and even life-threatening, injuries.
One in four Americans ages 65 and above — 29% of seniors — fall each year.
Injuries from falls, reduced mobility and activity, and the fear of falling can significantly reduce your quality of life. This could make you dependent on others and take away your freedom to move and live independently.
But here’s the good news: falls are preventable. Falling is not an inevitable result of aging. Read on to learn about the steps you can take to improve your balance and decrease your chances of falling.
Benefits of Adding Balance Therapy to Your Fitness Routine
Balance is an element of fitness that combines strength, cardio, and flexibility. Whether you are holding a yoga pose, looking to improve your agility, or increase strength, balance training improves performance in every aspect of life.
Each of these five benefits combine to create increased self-awareness, improved balance, and overall decreased risk of falls. Taking steps to improve balance enhances overall health and plays an important role in performing activities at a high level.
Any form of exercise challenges the muscles and your body’s ability to communicate with these areas. With balance therapy, the nervous system communicates with muscles to take on more tasks and increase strength. Ultimately, this will increase muscle strength. The goal is to increase strength in the muscles responsible for balance, stabilization, and posture and also make the nervous system more efficient and skilled in initiating muscular power to maximize capabilities in everyday functions.
Joint stability is the ability to control and maintain the joint movement or position. This is achieved when muscle groups and tissues surrounding the joints coordinate with the neuromuscular system. This produces smooth, controlled movements. Increased stability reduces the amount of stress to knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders whether you are recovering from an injury or looking to avoid further damage.
Coordination refers to your body’s ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently. Balance therapy increases your body’s control over movement by nurturing a healthy mind and body connection. Many people who suffer from a lack of coordination may not be aware of it. Sometimes the brain is physically incapable of communicating to the arms, legs, or body to move in a particular direction at a particular time. Advanced balance retraining can fix this challenge.
Often related to reaction time, agility refers to your body’s ability to change positions immediately to catch or brace yourself before a fall occurs. Improving agility increases your body’s ability to make quick movements and change direction suddenly. This helps those at risk to fall gracefully to avoid injury or prevent falls all together.
Body awareness gives your nervous system a sense of how your body and limbs are oriented in space. With increased awareness, your body moves more seamlessly. Mobility, speed, and equilibrium are optimized greatly with balance training.
Falls Are Both Dangerous and Costly
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal injury and nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. According to the CDC, accidental falls are the leading cause of death among this age group.
Falls are also the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence and injury deaths1. Recovery from a fall can sometimes take at least a year in a long-term facility, with some patients never returning to their homes.
Beyond physical injuries, falls also can lead to overwhelming fears of falling, loss of independence, and social isolation.
In addition, the financial toll is staggering. It’s estimated that older adults incur $50 billion annually in falls-related medical costs, a number that’s expected to double by 2030.
Falling is often viewed as an inevitable part of aging, but it doesn’t have to be!
6 Steps to Help Seniors Prevent Falls and Increase Balance
1. Consult with a physical therapist. A fall-risk screening will help determine a patient’s unique strengths and functional limitations that make an individual more susceptible to falls.
2. Assess the home environment. Keep floors, hallways, and stairs free of clutter, and ensure that indoor and outdoor walkways are well-lit. Consider adding grab bars in the shower or bathtub, as well as handrails on both sides of staircases. Make sure sidewalks have no cracks that are potential trip hazards and that steps are not too steep.
3. Prioritize regular exercise. Minimal impact exercises can help build stability, strength, and flexibility, abilities that often decline as individuals age.
4. Choose the right footwear. Wear shoes with slip-resistant soles and adequate heel support. Limit movement to even surfaces; thick grass, nature trails, throw rugs, and sand each present a potential trip hazard.
5. Examine prescription labels. Understand potential side effects with medications, which can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea or sleepiness.
6. Visit the doctor. Annual appointments with a primary care physician are crucial, but so too are yearly visits to an optometrist and otolaryngologist. Your eyes and ears are two very important keys to stability as you age.
An experienced physical therapist also will develop an individualized program for core and lower extremity strength, balance, endurance and flexibility, and outline steps to prevent future falls.
Physical Therapy Can Help Reduce the Risk of Falling
Improving balance often reduces your risk of falling, so make it a priority to get a balance assessment from your doctor or a certified physical therapist.
Studies show that attention to certain risk factors, such as impaired balance, can significantly reduce rates of falling. A physical therapist-prescribed exercise program targeting balance and strength can be effective in improving a number of balance and related outcomes in older people with mild balance impairment2.
A comprehensive balance therapy program includes an evaluation of a patient’s gait, or walking skills. This determines potential problems with strength, posture, and other conditions. Hip and ankle weakness, as well as poor posture, often lead to balance problems.
Strength, endurance, motion, balance, and coordination are all components of an effective gait. Certified physical therapists work with patients to address gait problems and help them reach the goal of safe mobility.
A balanced, steady gait helps in the prevention of falls and injuries.
Be sure to look for a comprehensive balance program that includes assessment and evaluation programs, balance retraining, and vestibular rehabilitation. At Advantage Physical Therapy, the certified physical therapists are trained, capable, and professional when it comes to the treatment protocols for fall risks and stability.
The balance therapy program has a 99% balance improvement success rate.
After the initial assessment, a physical therapist will create a program specifically designed to your individual needs. There is no cookie cutter program. Each patient’s specific needs and challenges are addressed. Ultimately, this achieves the goal of regaining your balance, confidence, and freedom.
To find a physical therapy provider near you and schedule your fall risk assessment (or to help a loved one schedule theirs), use the BetterPT clinic location tool or download the BetterPT app. Prefer to utilize telehealth services? Use the BetterTelehealth platform to schedule your appointment virtually. These options make it simple for you to find and connect with a PT professional, no matter where you live.
Falls are preventable. If you or someone you know suffers from imbalance, keep in mind that early intervention is key. Falling is not an inevitable result of aging. There are steps you can take to improve your balance and decrease the chances of falling.
Take the first step and schedule a fall risk assessment today.
Blayne R. Liparoto, PT, CPAVE, CWcHP, is owner and director of the clinic and licensed provider of WorkSTEPS. She earned a Bachelor of Science Physical Therapy from Texas Woman’s University in 1984 and began her career in physical therapy working with neurologic and orthopedic cases while consulting in spine and sports rehabilitation. She worked with Mr. Feeler, the developer and founder of WorkSTEPS, at Odessa Physical Therapy during the early stages of employment screening in industrial services. With clinical experience in out-patient hospitals and private practice, she offered an extensive background in orthopedic manual therapy and neurologic treatment of the spine and sports care along with golf specific performance enhancement, obstetrical and gynecological diagnoses, chronic pelvic pain, exercise, chronic pain management, TMJ and pediatrics. Liparoto is an educator of her peers in the principal techniques for examination and treatment of the orthopedic and sports patients, and women’s health issues.