8 Factors that Affect Your Balance (Fall Prevention)
June 10, 2021 (updated)
In a previous blog, I explained how you can test your “3 Balance Systems” to determine your body’s ability to give your brain accurate sensory input. Recall that giving your brain accurate input regarding your balance is the first key step in maintaining your balance and avoiding a fall.
And the next 2 steps involve your ability to PROCESS this sensory input and for your body to RESPOND and make any necessary corrections. (The 3 steps are: Sense, Process & Respond)
So far, I’ve tried to keep my explanations of your balance pretty simple… and I’m hoping that today won’t be too confusing.
However, keep this in mind as we discuss the 8 factors that can influence your balance: there are a lot of different factors involved when it comes to maintaining your balance. Often times, people who struggle with poor balance will have 2-3 factors that specifically affect them.
Your ability to improve your balance will depend on figuring out which 2-3 factors are affecting you and improving them if you can (not all of them can be improved, but I’ll discuss that as we go along).
*Full video version of this blog is at the bottom of the post*
8 Factors that Affect Your Balance:
1). Strength: if you still have good sensory input from your 3 balance systems, you’ll need strength in your leg and core muscles to make corrections to your balance. This is especially true regarding your ankle and hip muscles, particularly when walking on uneven surfaces or in busy environments where you might get bumped or jostled.
2). Endurance/Fatigue: having strong muscles isn’t always enough, especially if your muscles tire easily. Poor muscle endurance can leave you susceptible to decreased balance, especially towards the end of the day or after a long walk, when the muscles start to become fatigued.
3). Flexibility: while not as important as those first 2 factors, poor flexibility can also limit your balance. This is most applicable to your ankles, where tightness can limit your ability to move freely and ultimately improve your balance.
4). Central Nervous System: damage to your brain and/or spinal cord (aka your central nervous system or “CNS”) can result in serious limitations to your balance, strength and coordination. Common examples of damage to the CNS include Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s Disease and having a stroke.
5). Pain: in my opinion, pain is a very underrated factor when it comes to balance. Think about this: if you have pain in your lower back or your knees every time you try to be active, how can you really expect to keep up your strength and work on your balance? Reducing pain often needs to be a priority before you can expect to start exercising more, and working through pain rarely works out in the end. So don’t be a victim of the “No pain, no gain” approach!
6). Medications: how often have you heard an ad for a medication on TV or the radio, followed by “side effects may include dizziness or light headedness…”? Combine this with medications that may lower your blood pressure, such as beta blockers, and you can see why these side effects can have a very dangerous impact on your balance.
7). Vertigo: defined as the sensation of spinning or movement, vertigo can have a debilitating effect on your balance, especially if left untreated. We’re going to discuss vertigo in detail soon, so more details to come.
8). Neuropathy: the most common complaints with neuropathy include numbness and tingling in the feet, as well as pain. Decreased sensation limits your ability to sense your balance, while pain can limit your tolerance for walking and exercise in general.
Can you see why it’s so important to understand all of the factors that impact your balance before setting out to improve it? In future blogs, I’ll put some of this information together and give you some examples of what proper functioning balance looks like, as well as what balance looks like when it’s negatively impacted by some of these common factors.
In the meantime, if you have any specific questions about your balance, or you’d like more information about how to claim a FREE, 30-minute “Balance & Falls Risk Assessment” with one of our PTs, simply send me an email at Luke@GordonPhysicalTherapy.com
– Luke Gordon, DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy/Owner of Gordon Physical Therapy)
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