Lynsey Schmidt, PT, DPT, has over seven years of experience working in outpatient physical therapy at the Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy location in South Chandler, AZ . Today, Lynsey shares her professional knowledge on how physical therapy can improve balance.
As a physical therapist, I’ve had many patients enter my office with a prescription from their physician for balance training. Several of these patients have asked me why they were sent to physical therapy for balance issues and how can physical therapy help improve balance over time.
The answer is simple. Physical therapists are trained in problem solving and are experts regarding the musculoskeletal system. It is our job to perform various tests to get to the heart of the problem and use those results to develop an individual plan to improve areas where we find deficits. Our goal is to educate patients in how to better care for themselves, and help them return to their previous activities with the least amount of restrictions or limitations as possible.
When someone with balance difficulties begins physical therapy, it is usually after they have experienced a fall, or have come close to falling. This fear of falling can make things worse by causing the individual to avoid things such as exercising or going out in public, and the decrease in activity can contribute to even more muscle weakness.
To ease this fear, we start with simple exercises and activities to build strength and confidence. In the majority of cases where balance is compromised, there is a loss of leg and core strength. We can begin strengthening with the patient lying down and sitting first, then try standing exercises while they are supported and closely monitored. We work on strengthening the muscles surrounding the abdomen, lower back, hips, buttocks, and upper legs to give the individual a strong base of support to work from.
As the patient gets stronger and the more basic exercises become easier, there is a gradual increase in the difficulty of exercises. While patients are in physical therapy, they are also given safe exercises to work on at home. Home exercises may include doing small squats while holding onto two chairs, or something as simple as standing on one foot while brushing their teeth.
By the time a patient is finished with physical therapy, they will have a complete home exercise program. In addition, patients may feel confident enough to begin taking classes such as Tai Chi or yoga to further improve their balance.
Another aspect of physical therapy includes giving patients helpful information to improve their safety. Some pointers I like to share include removing any throw rugs in the home, installing grab bars near the toilet and the bathtub or shower, and improving lighting where needed.
It is also important to talk with a physician regarding any possible medication side effects, including dizziness, light headedness or drowsiness. It is also a good idea to get regular eye exams to make sure any glasses are appropriate for the patient’s needs.
Armed with all these tools, there will be an increase in strength, mobility, safety, and the individual’s balance will improve right along with their confidence.
Our AZ sports medicine and physical therapy experts at Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy know how to help you recover from injury and improve overall physical well-being. If you have questions about balance at any age, make an appointment today for your physical therapy consultation. To learn more about what our certified professionals can do for you, check out the Foothills blog!