Get steadier on your feet!
Balance is defined as the ability to maintain one’s center of mass over their base of support. It may sound simple, but is actually a very complex task, relying on 3 systems including the visual, vestibular, and somatosensory. Our therapists are here to help you tease out the components of balance and dizziness and back onto your own two – steadier – feet.
Visual information allows upright orientation based upon knowledge of objects in the world around you – both vertical and horizontal. Most people rely heavily on the visual system; if you feel off-balance walking to the bathroom in the dark, this is you in a nutshell.
The somatosensory system pulls in your body’s sensation of weight, pressure, and the status of joints to relayinformation about upright positioning.
If sensation is lost in the feet, for example, the brain does not receive cues about contact with the ground. This disorder, called peripheral neuropathy, is common among people living with diabetes, but can also occur as a result of other injuries.
The final pieces of information are provided by the vestibular system, utilizing fluid filled organs in the ears to transmit information regarding the movement and position of the head to structures in the brain. Because it works in conjunction with visual reflexes, difficulties in this system can lead to vertigo, or the sensation that the world is spinning. Vestibular disorders can occur after head or neck injuries like whiplash, after ear infections, or as part of the aging process.
Fast facts about balance and dizziness:
- The Vestibular Disorders Association estimates that 35% of adults over the age of 40, or roughly 69 million Americans, have some form of vestibular dysfunction.
- Dizziness in adults can arise as a result of eye or ear problems including inner ear issues but can also relate back to heart, pulmonary, spine, or medication problems and thus should be evaluated thoroughly.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is also common cause of dizziness in the elderly when calcium-like particles become trapped in a part of the inner ear that assesses the position of the head and body in space. Sufferers experience vertigo or dizziness after an abrupt change of position, which could happen at any time of the day, but often upon rising.
- Balance issues can range from an inability to maintain independence and function to an increased potential mortality due to hip fractures and head injury.
- Ménière’s disease is a syndrome that usually starts in one ear, but later may involve both. Smoking, infections, or a high-salt diet may worsen the symptoms which include vertigo, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, nausea, or loss of balance.
- Labyrinthitis can cause some of the symptoms noted above as well, especially if they are characterized by rapid onset. This condition arises from inflammation of nerves in the inner ear that may be related to an infection or a virus.
- Vestibular migraines can occur in those who suffer from conventional migraines; it is thought that the abnormal release of chemicals in the brain plays a role in their development. They can be triggered by stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, and changes in the weather, as well as some foods and beverages.
- Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS) is an unusual disorder that can arise after many types of travel, especially by air or ship; it can persist for an extended period afterwards in some people. It has been characterized as the feeling of walking on a trampoline – even when sitting still.