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Balance problems make it difficult for people to maintain stable and upright positions when standing, walking, and even sitting. Older people are at a higher risk of having balance problems; 75% of Americans older than 70 years are diagnosed as having "abnormal" balance. Physical therapists develop individualized physical activity plans to help improve the strength, stability, and mobility of people with balance problems.

What are Balance Problems?

A balance problem exists when an individual has difficulty maintaining a stable and upright position. A range of factors can cause balance problems, including:

  • Muscle weakness

  • Joint stiffness

  • Inner ear problems

  • Certain medications (such as those prescribed for depression and high blood pressure)

  • Lack of activity or a sedentary lifestyle

  • Simple aging

Balance problems can also be caused by medical conditions, such as:


Balance problems occur when 1 or more of 4 systems in the body are not working properly:

  • Vision

  • Inner ear

  • Muscular system

  • Awareness of one's own body position (called “proprioception”)


Poor vision can result from age, eye tracking problems, or eye diseases. Inner ear problems, also called vestibular problems, can develop from trauma, aging, poor nutrition, or disease. Body-position sense can become abnormal as a result of trauma or a disease, such as diabetes. Muscle strength and flexibility can decline due to lack of exercise, a sedentary lifestyle, or disease.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?


Physical therapists offer numerous options for treating balance problems, based on each person’s needs. They are trained to evaluate multiple systems of the body, including the muscles, joints, inner ear, eye tracking ability, skin sensation, and position awareness in the joints. Physical therapists are experts in prescribing active movement techniques and physical exercise to improve these systems, including strengthening, stretching, visual tracking, and inner ear retraining. 


Our physical therapists can help treat your balance problems by identifying their causes, and designing an individual treatment program to address your specific needs, including exercises you can do at home. Our physical therapists can help you:


Reduce Fall Risk. Our physical therapists will assess problem footwear and hazards in your home that increase your risk of balance problems or falling. Household hazards include loose rugs, poor lighting, unrestrained pets, or other possible obstacles.


Reduce Fear of Falling. By addressing specific problems that are found during the examination, our physical therapists will help you regain confidence in your balance and your ability to move freely, and perform daily activities. As you build confidence in your balance and physical ability, you will be better able to enjoy your normal daily activities.


Improve Mobility. Our physical therapists will help you regain the ability to move around with more ease, coordination, and confidence. Our physical therapists will develop an individualized treatment and exercise program to gradually build your strength and movement skills.


Improve Balance. Our physical therapists will teach you exercises for both static balance (sitting or standing still) and dynamic balance (keeping your balance while moving), and will progressively increase these exercises as your skills improve.


Improve Strength. Our physical therapists will teach you exercises to address muscle weakness, or to improve your overall muscle strength. Strengthening muscles in the trunk, hip, and stomach (ie, “core”) can be especially helpful in improving balance. Various forms of weight training can be performed with exercise bands, which help avoid joint stress.


Improve Movement. Our physical therapists will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in any of your joints that are stiff. These might begin with "passive" motions that the physical therapist performs for you, and progress to active exercises that you do yourself.


Improve Flexibility and Posture. Our physical therapists will determine if any of your major muscles are tight, and teach you how to gently stretch them. We will also assess your posture, and teach you exercises to improve your ability to maintain proper posture. Good posture can improve your balance.


Increase Activity Levels. Our physical therapists will discuss activity goals with you, and design an exercise program to address your individual needs and goals. We will help you reach those goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible.


Once your treatment course is completed, our physical therapists may recommend that you transition to a community group to continue your balance exercises, and maintain a fall-proof home environment.

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