What Is Balance Therapy?
Everyone gets caught off-balance from time to time. It’s only natural to trip over, fall, and find yourself unable to recover equilibrium. Though most people learn how to make up for this throughout their lives, and it’s rare to find adults falling down, those who struggle with inner ear problems can find themselves dealing with a range of symptoms that affect their balance.
Alongside learning how to balance properly, there are also some important mechanisms in your body that support you along the way. Injuries, health conditions, and even age can have a dramatic impact on these features of your body, and balance therapy is often the best tool you have available to help you mitigate symptoms like dizziness, gaze instability, falls.
How Does Your Body Balance?
Your body makes use of a number of different tools to make sure that you’re able to stay balanced. Your vision maps out the world around you and is one of the clearest indicators of your orientation. If you lose your balance, one of the first things you’re likely to notice is the world turning around you. The feeling of movement and your sight are very strongly connected. In fact, having things move around you can make it feel like your body is moving, even when you’re completely still.
Of course, though, if staying balanced was as simple as seeing things, the therapy that goes into it would be rather basic. In reality, though, your ears also play a heavy role in keeping your balance, with every human being fitted with two organic accelerometers. This is known as the vestibular system, and it consists of three canals that are filled with hair and fluid. As the fluid moves around, it touches these hairs and sends signals to your brain. The position of the fluid tells you how your body is oriented.
Like many of the organs within your ears, the vestibular system is extremely sensitive. Dramatic changes in air pressure, extremely loud noises, and head injuries can all result in this system being damaged, ultimately making it much hard to maintain your balance. You can also have a temporary impact on your vestibular system through certain activities like drinking alcohol or spinning around.
What Happens When The Vestibular System Gets Damaged?
While it performs an important role in your body, damage to the vestibular system is very unlikely to result in anything worse than poor hearing or balance. You may feel some pain as the result of any injury that damages this part of your body, and some will even feel pain from the inner ear itself.
If you find yourself with a problem like this, it’s crucial that you see a medical professional as soon as you can. Having your balance issues diagnosed and treated straight away will greatly increase the chances that you can regain your old footing but leaving this for a long time could have the opposite effect. Surgery and other medical treatments may be possible to repair any damage that has been done to your inner ears, though this may not restore your balance and in some cases, could even make it worse.
Thankfully, balance is something you learned once and is something that can be learned again, and this is where balance therapy comes in.
How Does Balance Therapy Work?
Balance therapy, also known as vestibular rehabilitation therapy, is a specialized form of therapy that is designed to combat vestibular disorders. While it will be hard to fix or improve a damaged vestibular system, you can be trained to compensate for the balance loss caused by the damage. This is possible because your brain is able to adapt and become more sensitive, and many people will be able to compensate for their lost balance naturally, though this may not be possible in extreme cases.
Diagnosing vestibular problems can be difficult, as many people don’t connect issues with their balance to something happening inside their ears. There are a range of different symptoms that people feel when they have a damaged vestibular system. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on a long-term basis, you should seek medical advice as soon as you can.
Symptoms of Vestibular System Damage
- Vertigo and Dizziness: Dizziness occurs as a result of your vestibular system being unable to sense your orientation, with vertigo being the term used for extreme cases of dizziness. This can make it hard to live a normal life, especially if you live on your own or lack a strong support network.
- Gaze Instability: Gaze instability is, as the name suggests, when your eyes struggle to stay in the same position when you focus on subjects. This is usually worse when walking or moving and is something that can take a lot of therapy and exercise to improve.
- Imbalance and Falls: Much like consuming too much alcohol, vestibular system damage can make it extremely hard to maintain your balance, making people prone to falls. This can be extremely dangerous, especially for the elderly.
Once you visit a doctor with symptoms of vestibular system damage, you will have to go through a range of assessments and tests so that they can establish the cause and extent of the issue. These tests will include visual inspections of your inner ears, though you may also go through some balance tests. They may also need to determine the health of specific parts of your nervous system, including the brainstem and cerebellum, to make sure that they are healthy enough for sense compensation to work. This will usually only be the case if your inner-ear damage is caused by an injury.
If it looks like balance therapy is a viable option in your situation, it will be time to build a therapy program that will cover each of the steps in your recovery process. Balance treatments like this require a lot of hands-on attention from medical professionals, and you will also need equipment that will only be found in special clinics. This means that you will have to go to regular appointments as you learn to live with impaired balance.
Each of these sessions will involve working through exercises that are designed to improve your natural sense compensation and accelerate the learning process. The type of exercise you do will depend on the symptoms you are experiencing.
Exercises for Vestibular System Damage
- Vertigo and Dizziness: For those experiencing vertigo or dizziness, there are a range of different exercises your therapist will take you through. The Brandt-Daroff exercise is a common example of this, involving sitting and lying in different positions as you wait for your symptoms to reduce.
- Gaze Instability: Gaze instability is caused when your brain can’t establish the position of your head, making it hard to keep your eyes still. Turning your head while looking at a stationary object with your eyes is one of the more common exercises that is used to train your brain to compensate and reduce gaze instability.
- Imbalance and Falls: For those who are incredibly prone to imbalance and falling, finding exercises that improve your balance can be hard. This means that therapists often have to go through a long process with their patients, working through exercises that limit the risk of falling until they regain their balance.
There are several other exercises that are used in balance therapy, with many therapists choosing to vary the activities each patient does to make sure that their brain is being trained for everything they’ll encounter in day to day life. Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that this sort of therapy won’t be successful for everyone, and you may have to look at other methods to help with your balance problems, too.
The Challenges of Living With Impaired Balance
The challenges that can come with impaired balance are far more serious than simply finding it hard to stand up. Injuries that would otherwise be easy to recover from can be life-changing when your vestibular system is damaged, and you will face far more challenges than you might expect from this. It’s always worth having an understanding of these challenges, even if you don’t suffer from balance problems yourself.
Many of the world’s most well-populated job roles require a lot of movement and time spent on your feet. If you’ve trained to be a plumber or other construction professional, for example, it would be extremely hard to do your job if you can’t balance yourself and could even end up being dangerous. While most governments have schemes in place to help those who can’t work, invisible disabilities like vestibular system damage are often taken less seriously than those that can be clearly seen.
Other Health Problems
While vestibular damage usually won’t extend to other parts of your body, the lifestyle that many people take on when they experience this sort of condition can leave them in a bad state. It will be hard to exercise and be social, leaving a lot of people to gain weight, become more sedentary, and socially isolate, which can lead to mental health issues. This makes it well worth getting help as soon as you can.
Reliance On Care
No one likes the idea of having people look after their every need, especially when they have to deal with medical problems at the same time. Vestibular system damage can often leave people in need of support, especially when it comes to things like shopping, cooking, and handling other essential tasks. Even if you don’t like the idea of balance therapy, it will still be better than having to rely on others to keep you alive.
Getting Help From North East Spine and Sports
As you can see, the problems that come with impaired balance are wide in their scope. This sort of condition can impact just about every element of your life, and these changes are rarely positive. Relearning your ability to balance will be challenging, but it will be well worth it, and having an expert to guide you through the process will make the whole thing much easier.
Here at North East Spine and Sports Medicine, we’ve had the opportunity to work with countless clients with balance problems. This has given our team the chance to build a unique insight into this field, and we’re proud to offer our services across New Jersey. We encourage anyone who is looking to start balance therapy to get in touch with our friendly team. Of course, though, we’re also happy to offer advice and support for a myriad of other health services.
Alongside balance therapy, we can also help you with acupuncture, chiropractic care, pain management, and a huge range of other areas. You can book an appointment through our convenient online booking system, or you can give our team a call if you prefer to speak to a person.
Dealing with balance problems is never easy. We understand that you need tailored care and support as you go through this process, and we’re always happy to offer everything you need to get back on your feet.