Can you stand on one foot?
The ability to maintain our balance is a complex process that involves multiple systems working together. Our brains rely on sensory information gathered from the visual, vestibular, and somatosensory systems to maintain balance. Our visual system allows us to see the environment around us clearly and can warn us of any obstacles or uneven surfaces in our path. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and gives our brain information based on our head position. Fluid within the inner ear tells our brain when our head is in motion. The somatosensory system involves our muscle and joint receptors which tell our brain when to contract muscles to provide stability. If there is damage or disruption to any of these systems it can cause us to feel wobbly, dizzy, or unsteady. Finally, we need to have sufficient power in the muscles of our lower body and trunk to keep ourselves upright. Unfortunately, as we age our strength and balance tend to decline. This decline can happen gradually at first and we make subtle adjustments to compensate. For example, when we are younger we may stand on one leg to put on our pants, shoes, or socks, but gradually we may start to lean against the bed for support to do the same task. Eventually, we may decide to just sit on a chair. As we pass the 6th decade of life the decline in our strength and balance escalates, which can result in an increased risk for falls and other injuries. According to the World Health Organization, falls are the second leading cause of unintended injury-based death.
So when is the last time you checked your balance? A simple 10-second single-leg stance test may be a good place to start. According to a recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine after adjusting for age, sex, and existing health conditions investigators estimated the inability to perform a 10-second single-limb stance in middle-aged and older adults was correlated to an 84% higher risk of all-cause death over the next 7 years. Those who were able to stand on one leg for 10 seconds had a decreased risk of falling and therefore an overall lower risk of mortality.
Our physical therapists can perform a comprehensive evaluation of your vestibular, musculoskeletal, and proprioceptive function to see which factors may be impacting your balance and develop appropriate treatment plans. Physical therapy can involve stretching and strengthening exercises, position awareness strategies, balance retraining, visual stabilization training, home safety education, as well as walking and general fitness exercises.
If you have concerns about your balance, contact our office to schedule an evaluation.
Balance - Physiopedia (physio-pedia.com)