Is losing your balance normal as you age?

By ALLISON GARVIN, DPT

At some point we start to notice things are not quite as easy as they used to be. Reactions feel slower, standing on one foot feels like an acrobatic trick, and changing positions requires a moment to regain our orientation. There are multiple reasons for these changes, and we have the opportunity to get ahead of them right now! Our body’s balance is determined by three systems, the vestibular system, the visual system, and somatosensory system. Throughout our lives our body relies on different systems to create stability. Here’s why.

From infancy to approximately 3-6 years of age, we depend highly on vision, as this system develops and matures first.1 Our eyes have the goal of staying in line with the horizon, and if our vision doesn’t show us this, we know something is “not right” and our body will physically try to correct to reorient the image.

Children learn and gain stability and strength in their environment by exploring, sometimes falling, and making mistakes. What may seem clumsy in young age between the ages of 4 and 7 is actually a developing proprioception system. 2 Proprioception is the feeling in your joints. They tell us if we are in alignment, if there is abnormal pressure, or if we are in need of stepping to regain our balance. By 7 years old this proprioceptive system is most dominantly relied upon.2 However, at this young age, if we are to challenge ourselves with uneven surfaces or a narrow base of support, vision is again depended upon.

The last component of our balance system, the vestibular system, matures between the ages of 15 and 16.3,4 Our vestibular system is made up of a series of small bones and organs in our inner ear that tells via the movement of fluid in the inner ear where we are in space with relation to gravity. The vestibular system is very important, as when we experience a conflict in information (such as when your car is not moving, but the car next to you starts pulling forward or backwards), this is the system that corrects our experience and tells us what movement is truly happening.

As we age, neurons in our brains used to communicate information about our body’s special position lose dendrites (communicating branches), myelin sheaths (nerve coating that increases signal speed) degrade, cilia in the ear become damaged, and different pathologies including diabetes, neuropathies, unilateral vestibular hypo function, etc. can exponentially negatively impact all 3 systems.

The good news is, we are not helpless in this scenario! Numerous studieshave demonstrated the benefits of staying physically active as we age to improve our central nervous system (brain and nerves) as well as our muscle spindle function. In fact, a study by Duke- NUS Medical demonstrated that a tailored physical therapy routine for balance and gait challenges reduced patients’ risk of falls by 50%.6 What we can learn from this is that YOU have control over your balance and safety, and physical therapy has been scientifically proven to help you achieve reduced fall risk and improved mobility.

If you are concerned about your balance, Hampton Physical Therapy is here to help. Call for an evaluation. We can get you scheduled ASAP!

  1. REFERENCES
  2. 1 Lear S. Pediatric Balance Assessment. BA Audiology.org. https://www.baaudiology.org/files/2114/5796/1722/1430_Samantha_Lear.pdf. Accessed January 4, 2020.

2 Sá CDSCde, Boffino CC, Ramos RT, Tanaka C. Development of postural control and maturation of sensory systems in children of different ages a cross-sectional study. Brazilian journal of physical therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5816079/. Published 2018. Accessed February 10, 2020.

3 Cherng RJ, Chen JJ, Su FC. Vestibular System in Performance of Standing Balance of Children and Young Adults under Altered Sensory Conditions – R. J. Cherng, J.J. Chen, F. C. Su, 2001. SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2466/pms.2001.92.3c.1167. Accessed February 10, 2020

4 Ralli G. Maturation and evolution of the vestibular system. GiovanniRalli. http://giovanniralli.it/allegati/108/aging .compressed.pdf.

5 Ribeiro F, Oliveira J. Aging effects on joint proprioception: the role of physical activity in proprioception preservation. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity. 2007;4(2):71-76. doi:10.1007/s11556-007-0026-x.

6 Keeping the Elderly Safe. Science Daily. March 2017. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170316093025.htm.

Sitting for long periods of time during Covid-19?

<a href="https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people">sitting image above by freepik - www.freepik.com</a>by KATE SERODIO, DPT

Does Pre-Covid-19 seem like forever ago?  We’re now in week 4 and many of us are feeling like it’s been an eternity.  We no longer have our luxury at work desks, chairs, and routines.  But instead we’re left in our personal homes with our new work stations consisting of high top stools, a recliner, the couch, kitchen table, or your home office chair which you’re sure is the reason you’re now having some weird pain/sensation on the outside of your leg.  To make our working conditions even more complicated many of us have children that interrupt you with every other thought.  In fact, this tiny paragraph took me an hour to write secondary to the constant interruption and demands of the children’s online learning and my newly appointed position of Head of Homeschooling.  I miss the day when I had no idea what a zoom meeting was! 🙂

We are all on the struggle bus together!  We have no idea how long this ride will be but hopefully we can get off at the next stop, May 4th, right?  In the meantime, I’d like to help you with a simple adjustment you can make to help you get rid of your back or leg pain and or prevent it from ever happening.

Many of us, including myself, are experiencing sciatic pain.  Sciatic pain can present itself in many ways.  You could have pain anywhere from localized to your back to all the way down your leg to your foot.  The pain could be mild to severe and present itself as numbness, tingliness, burning or a pulling/tight feeling.  Nerves are complicated and don’t always make sense.  But if they’re starting to talk to you it’s very important that you don’t ignore them as they will soon become very angry and make sure you have no choice but to listen.  Anyone that has had a severe case of sciatica knows what I’m talking about.

So, what can you do to keep your back and sciatic nerve happy?

Above is a video I made, showing you 3 tIps on things you can change immediately in your home office or living room! (ALSO EXPLAINED BELOW)

TIP #1 Sit on a wedge or pillow: this increases the angle at your hips and decreases the neural tension on your sciatic nerve.  Sitting at a 90deg will actually put more pull/strain on the nerve.  The goal is to have your knees lower than your waist putting you more into a standing position vs sitting.  You should feel an immediate relief in your back and if you have any leg symptoms going on they should also be reduced or completely eliminated.

TIP #2  Don’t sit so long!  Set a timer for 20minutes.  Or drink so much water that your bladder puts you on a timer.  Your body isn’t meant to be in any one position for longer than 20minutes.  You’re asking for trouble if you go beyond this time.   Get up and move/change positions or how about you stretch!

TIP #3  stretch? Yes, one the best things you could do for your back to prevent constant disc bulging from sitting is to do the opposite of what you’ve been doing for the past 20+minutes.  Yes, stand up and simply arch backwards.  Repeat 20x

STAY SAFE & HAPPY!  We are open if you need us… just call!

(image of woman sitting image above by freepik – www.freepik.com)

HPT Helps ~ Donate Food or Take What You Need!

Give Food - take what you need at Hampton Physical Therapy in NHFriends & Patients,

We realize there are some of you who are out of work and perhaps in need of some help. And there are some of you who are still working who might like to help others during this difficult time. 

FUN afterschool center in Hampton, NH - partners with Hampton PT

Both Hampton Physical Therapy locations (Seabrook & Hampton) as well as FUN located at 40 Stickney Terrace, Hampton (provides quality after school programs) are going to leave a donation box just outside our front doors. We have put a few food items in it to get things started and will keep adding as the days progress.

If you would like to GIVE a donation, please bring non perishable goods
(and/or gift cards to support local restaurants) 
and leave them in the box. 

PLEASE feel free to TAKE some of the items for your family or friends
who are 
in need of food supplies!

We will keep you all posted on the progression of our little” food bank”.

WHEN we get back to a more “normal” life, if there are food items still available in the boxes, we will donate to our area organizations who supply food items for those in need.

If you need us – we are open and being conscientious of social distancing, sanitizing, and wearing masks. We want to continue to provide care for all our patients.

Feel free to call us at 603-474-2259 or 603-929-2880.

Physical Therapy services are labeled as an essential service. Private practices like ours have been encouraged by our professional association to remain open as a safer alternative to urgent care and emergency room during the Covid-19 crisis. We can assist in evaluating, triaging, and caring for non-emergent musculoskeletal injury. Emergency rooms and urgent care centers must preserve their staff and equipment for real emergency care at this time.

We are strictly following all screening and cleaning measures recommended by the CDC.

Thank you for understanding the severity of the situation and doing your part to keep the community safe.