Balance & Vestibular Rehab

What is a balance disorder?

A balance disorder is a condition that can make you feel unsteady or dizzy. Even if you are standing still, sitting, or lying down, it might make you feel as if you are moving, spinning, or floating. If you are walking, you might suddenly feel as if you are tipping over.

Many people have a dizzy spell now and then, but the term "dizziness" can mean different things to different people. For one person, dizziness might mean a fleeting feeling of faintness, while for another it could be an intense sensation of spinning (vertigo) that lasts a long time.

Experts believe that more than four out of 10 Americans, at some time in their life, will experience an episode of dizziness significant enough to send them to a doctor. Balance disorders can be caused by certain health conditions, medications, or a problem in the inner ear or the brain. A balance disorder can profoundly impact daily activities and cause psychological and emotional hardship.

What are the symptoms of a balance disorder?

If you have a balance disorder, you may stagger when you try to walk, or teeter or fall when you try to stand up. You might experience other symptoms such as:

  • Dizziness or vertigo (a spinning sensation)
  • Falling or feeling as if you are going to fall
  • Lightheadedness, faintness, or a floating sensation
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion or disorientation.

Other symptoms might include nausea and vomiting, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, fear, anxiety, or panic.

Symptoms may come and go over short time periods or last for a long time, and can lead to fatigue and depression.

What causes balance disorders?

There are many causes of balance problems, such as medications, ear infections, a head injury, or anything else that affects the inner ear or brain. A drop in blood pressure caused by standing up too quickly can cause an episode of dizziness. Problems that affect the skeletal or visual systems, such as arthritis or eye muscle imbalance, can also cause balance disorders. Your risk of having balance problems increases as you get older.

Unfortunately, many balance disorders start suddenly and with no obvious cause.

Common causes of balance disorders that we work with include:

  • Central Nervous System Disorders
  • Neuropathy
  • Age-Related Balance Dysfunction
  • Oculomotor (Visual) Dysfunction
  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
  • Labyrinthitis
  • Ménière's Disease
  • Vestibular Neuronitis
  • Muscle Atrophy
  • Nerve Injuries

Treatment for Balance Disorders

There are more than a dozen causes of dizziness and many reasons why you might have difficulty with your balance.

Treatment of balance & dizziness disorders can be very complex. Nevertheless, we have helped numerous residents in the community cope with or recover from conditions that cause balance disorders.

The first thing your doctor will do if you have a balance problem is determine if another health condition or a medication is to blame. If so, your doctor will treat the condition, suggest a different medication, or in many cases, refer you to one of our balance disorder experts here at Foothills Orthopedic & Sport Therapy.

How Our Physical Therapists Can Help

Physical therapist directed treatment can assist patients with balance disorders in a number of ways. As experts in the evaluation and treatment of movement, muscle, joint, and nervous system disorders, our physical therapists can prescribe and implement a variety of treatments including:

  • Coordination Exercises
  • Proprioception Exercises
  • Strengthening Exercises
  • Stretching and Range of Motion Exercises
  • Posture Exercises
  • Retraining of the Inner Ear
  • Visual Tracking Training

Education is Therapy

The most important part of treating a balance disorder is to understand your diagnosis, the cause of the problem, and how to manage it. That's why we place great emphasis on patient education and coordination of care with your referring physician.

THREE ADDITIONAL AND IMPORTANT TREATMENT COMPONENTS

Reduce Fall Risk. Your physical therapist will assess for potential problems with your footwear and discuss hazards in your home that increase your risk of balance problems or falling. Household hazards may include loose rugs, poor lighting, unrestrained pets, or other possible obstacles.

Reduce Fear of Falling. By addressing specific problems that are found during the examination, your physical therapist will help you regain confidence in your balance and your ability to move freely, and perform daily activities. As you build confidence in your balance and physical ability, you will be better able to enjoy your normal daily activities.

Care Collaboration. Physical therapy working in collaboration with your medical doctor allows you to get two expert opinions and assessments of your condition. Together we can better address your balance disorder and decrease your fear of falling and fall risks.

POSITIONAL VERTIGO - A COMMON CAUSE OF DIZZINESS & BALANCE DISORDERS

If you have BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), our vestibular therapy experts can guide you through a series of movements, such as the Epley maneuver, which can help reposition the otoconia (calcium crystals) in the semicircular canal of the ear. In many cases, one session works to alleviate the dizziness; others may need the procedure performed several times to relieve their dizziness.

WHEN SHOULD I SEEK HELP IF I THINK I HAVE A BALANCE DISORDER?

To help you decide whether to seek medical help for a dizzy spell, ask yourself the following questions. If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, talk to one of our physical therapists and your doctor:

  • Have I taken a fall?
  • Do I feel unsteady?
  • Do I feel as if the room is spinning around me?
  • Do I feel as if I'm moving when I know I'm sitting or standing still?
  • Do I feel as if I'm falling?
  • Do I feel lightheaded or as if I might faint?
  • Do I have blurred vision?
  • Do I ever feel disoriented–losing my sense of time or location?

WE CAN HELP YOU COPE WITH YOUR CONDITION

The physical therapists at Foothills Orthopedic & Sport Therapy can also help increase your strength and improve your coordination to help lower your risk of falling and getting hurt during the performance of your daily activities.

Some people with a balance disorder will need the help of our vestibular rehabilitation therapists to manage their condition. As with treatment of all of our patients, we will conduct a personalized evaluation of your condition and develop an individualized treatment plan.

Reference: Physical Therapist's Guide to Balance Problems

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