What is a balance disorder?
A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel unsteady or dizzy. If you are standing, sitting, or lying down, you might feel as if you are moving, spinning, or floating. If you are walking, you might suddenly feel as if you are tipping over.
Everyone has 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, sometime in their lives, 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, and 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. Low blood pressure can lead to dizziness when you stand up too quickly. 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 Diagnoses We Work With Include:
- Central Nervous System Disorders
- Age-Related Balance Dysfunction
- Oculomotor (Visual) Dysfunction
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
- 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 Premier Physical Therapy and Sports Performance.
Our physical therapists have special vestibular and concussion rehabilitation training to help patients with a safe and optimal recovery time (optimal does not necessarily mean fast).
No two concussion injuries are the same. Different areas of the brain may be involved so your physical therapist will perform a thorough evaluation of your neurological system, musculoskeletal system, and balance systems.
Treatment may include:
Rest and recovery – patients with concussions often need to rest their brain and body during the recovery process. This includes a personalized and closely monitored program to limit physical, thinking, and remembering activities to avoid symptoms getting worse. Proper sleep hygiene (sleep habits) are also very important and our specialists can help with education to help concussion patients get a better night’s rest.
Restoring strength and endurance – rest can quickly lead to deconditioning of your body or in other words, the rest and recovery after a concussion means you will “get out of shape”. Our trained clinicians will prescribe a graded neuromuscular and endurance training program to help you get back to daily activities and/or sporting events.
Stopping dizziness and improving balance – dizziness is a common symptom after a concussion. It may be due to injury to the vestibular system. We may be help reduce or even eliminate dizziness and associated balance problems with specialized treatment and training techniques that may include:
- Strength and motion exercises
- Eye exercises
- Hands-on techniques
- The use of specialized balance devices
Return to Sport and Your Normal Daily Activities – it’s important to add the appropriate level of exercises and functional activities gradually because too much stimulation may cause the symptoms to TEMPORARILY worsen.
With a proper assessment and closely monitored treatment program most patients will fully recover with minimal residual deficits. It is very important to follow the instructions of our physical therapist that are highly trained in the rehabilitation of concussion injuries.
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 understanding 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 Options
Reduce Fall Risk. Your physical therapist will assess problem footwear and hazards in your home that increase your risk of balance problems or falling. Household hazards 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. 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 disorders 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 perform a series of simple movements, such as the Epley maneuver, which can help dislodge the otoconia (calcium crystals) from the semicircular canal of the ear. In many cases, one session works; other people need the procedure 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:
- 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 lose my balance and fall?
- 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 Premier Physical Therapy and Sports Performance can also help increase your strength and coordination to help lower your risk of falling and getting hurt during daily activities, such as when you walk up or down stairs, use the bathroom, or exercise.
Some people with a balance disorder will need the help of our vestibular rehabilitation therapists to cope with their problems. In each case, we will conduct a personalized evaluation of your condition and then we will develop an individualized treatment plan.