Balance & Gait Disorders
Does your unsteadiness make you feel as if you may topple or fall over without any warning? Do you experience pain in your hips, knees, or other joints when you walk or move in certain ways? Do you ever experience the “spins,” when standing up, even when you’re standing still? If so, you may be suffering from a balance or gait disorder.
There are multiple reasons that can cause balance or gait issues to develop, and they can be both physically and mentally debilitating. A variety of underlying musculoskeletal and neurological disorders can either cause or aggravate a balance/gait condition. Fortunately, physical therapy can help significantly reduce your symptoms and may even correct your condition altogether. For more information on how you can get back on your feet by steadying your balance and gait troubles, contact Eastside Sports Rehabilitation Clinic for an appointment today!
Why do balance and gait disorders occur?
There can be numerous reasons that cause balance and gait disorders to occur, since they can develop from many different underlying conditions. For balance disorders, many are related to issues in the vestibular system, which is a delicate collection of fluid-filled chambers and sensory nerves located in the inner ear. The vestibular system is responsible for your “proprioception,” also known as your sense of position.
Some common vestibular conditions resulting in balance disorders include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV develops when calcium debris breaks off in the inner ear, causing issues with balance.
- Injury or ailment. Even if your brain and nervous system are working in harmony with one another, a sudden injury, disease, or other ailment causing muscle weakness can interfere with your balance and make it difficult to keep yourself upright.
- Neurological issues. Some neurological issues include Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or a brain injury. Essentially, anything that impacts your neurological system can also impact your balance.
Much like balance disorders, gait disorders can also develop from the symptoms of neurological or neuromuscular issues. Any condition that impairs nerve or muscle function may lead you to walk in an abnormal manner. However, gait problems can also appear as the result of underlying musculoskeletal problems. This includes abnormal foot arches, plantar fasciitis, overuse injuries, or uneven muscle support that can make you favor one side of your body more than the other. Previous injuries that never healed correctly may also affect your gait. This can be a result of the internal scar tissue limiting your range of motion if found in your feet, knees, or hips.
What exactly are balance and gait disorders?
Balance and gait disorders belong to a family of functional problems that interfere with your positional awareness, your normal means of walking or running, and your ability to keep yourself upright.
While balance and gait disorders are closely related, they do have some distinct differences. According to the Mayo Clinic, balance disorders are defined as anything that causes you to feel as if you are “spinning,” or in danger of falling, even if you are sitting or standing still. Balance disorders are both physical and mental, due to the fact that your brain may think you are moving, even when you are not.
Gait disorders can cause abnormal movements to the way you walk and run, which can become exaggerated with age. According to Move Forward Physical Therapy, gait disorders account for 17 percent of senior falls, as symptoms seem to worsen as one ages.
How does physical therapy help?
Physical therapy can provide you with the tools you need to relieve the symptoms of your balance or gait disorder. In many cases, it can even help you recover completely from your condition. One of our dedicated Bellevue, WA physical therapists, or occupational therapist, will conduct a comprehensive physical evaluation to examine your balance, gait, stance, symptoms, and medical history. From there, a personalized treatment plan will be created for your specific needs. This treatment plan may include:
- Vestibular rehabilitation. This is a balance-and-gait-specific type of rehab that works to improve your vision, muscles, nerves, and vestibular system as a whole, in order to maintain a steady balance. If you are suffering from BPPV, your physical therapist will provide you with specific exercises that will return the calcium debris to the correct parts of your ear.
- Gait retraining exercises. Sometimes, abnormalities in gait can be corrected through “retraining.” If this is the case, your physical therapist will walk you through proper posture, stance, and walking techniques. In a study cited by the Arthritis Foundation, patients suffering from osteoarthritis-related gait disorders were able to successfully alter their gait through treadmill exercises.
- Strengthening exercises. Your evaluation will help determine any problem areas in your body that may need help. Your physical therapist will provide you with strengthening exercises that will build up your muscles, thus making it much easier for you to move around and reduce your risk of injury.
- Stretches. Stretches are an important part of your treatment plan that will help improve your flexibility and your range of motion. This will give you more control and quicker reactions with your movements, in addition to reducing your risk of injury. Stretches will also help in keeping your muscles from becoming too tight and stiff.
If you are suffering from a balance or gait disorder, contact our Bellevue, WA physical therapy office to schedule an appointment. Eastside Sports Rehabilitation Clinic will help you get back on your feet in no time!