If you are over 65 years old and tell your doctor you are having difficulty maintaining your balance or report a fall in the past year, your doctor should initiate a conversation about your balance that covers medications, home safety, and hopefully, ends the conversation with a referral to a physical therapist for balance therapy.
However, sometimes people are referred to physical therapy without a clear understanding of what the benefits are or why they are coming. When we meet new patients at Vortex Physical Therapy and Balance, we frequently come across the same misconceptions about how physical therapy, and specifically balance therapy can help.
For those who may not have participated in balance therapy before, we thought we’d share a few of the most common things we hear in the clinic (and our answers):
Misconception #1: Falling is a normal part of aging.
- Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of non-fatal injury related hospital admissions among older adults.
- One in four individuals aged 65+ will fall each year.
Falling is NOT a normal part of aging; we are never too old to improve our balance. At Vortex, we treat people in their 80s and 90s who make improvements in their balance over the course of therapy. It is possible to get better and live more safely.
Many factors contribute to falls, such as dizziness, muscle weakness, poor posture, impaired sleep, medication interactions, and uneven floor surfaces. At Vortex, we assess your balance and help you identify ways to begin decreasing your fall risk.
Some immediate, easy changes you can make at home include removing tripping hazards like throw rugs, focusing on walking without multitasking, and wearing properly fitted shoes that support your foot and heel.
Misconception #2: If I walk slowly, I won’t fall.
Reality: It may sound counter-intuitive, however walking faster is usually safer. Walking slowly with shuffling feet creates more opportunities to trip and fall due to poor foot clearance and susceptibility to catching our toes.
When we walk at a quicker pace, more of our postural muscles engage, increasing our stability and keeping us more prepared to respond to changes in the environment. To walk properly, we must be in control and feel confident in our stability. At Vortex Physical Therapy, we assess your walking pattern and provide exercises to improve the speed, stability, and distance you are able to walk. Participating in this therapy can also help increase your confidence, allowing you to participate in activities you enjoy with less fear of falling.
Misconception #3: I did physical therapy for my balance and it didn’t work.
Reality: We hear from people who have done balance therapy elsewhere and say they got stronger, but their balance was still a problem. They rode a stationary bike, lifted weights and practiced standing on one leg. Strengthening and endurance training is important, but it does not address all balance needs. We encourage you to seek out a physical therapist with special training in treating balance disorders.
At Vortex Physical Therapy and Balance, our physical therapists look at how your vestibular system is functioning and incorporate additional exercises into your balance program. We work 1:1 with you to address your specific functional goals and prevent falls. Some examples of alternative treatment options we regularly use include:
- training on uneven and soft surfaces
- navigating obstacles
- blaze pods, light up targets
- agility ladder stepping patterns
- tilt board proprioception training
- virtual reality training
Misconception #4: I don’t need to do my physical therapy homework every day.
Reality: Just like anything in life, the more effort you put into physical therapy, the better your results will be. The daily repetition of homework exercises will help you achieve the best outcomes.
While you are at Vortex, your physical therapist will create a list of home exercises for you to help you meet your goals and address your impairments. These homework exercises are critical to your progress while you are working with us and should be continued after therapy concludes to prevent decline. The 1-2 hours each week you work hard in the clinic are preparing you for the other 168 hours of the week. Ultimately, the time you spend doing your home exercises will make the difference in your success.
Misconception #5: My physical therapist will fix this problem.
Reality: Physical therapists provide you with the tools you need to heal yourself. As movement specialists, our team of physical therapists at Vortex teach you the exercises you need to improve. However, you are tasked with the hard work of making lifestyle changes, performing your home exercises, and incorporating what you learn here into your daily life. The more engaged and active a role you play in balance therapy, the more you will benefit from your experience.
Misconception #6: I want to continue seeing my physical therapist every week.
Reality: Skilled physical therapy is considered medical treatment. Your physical therapist works with you to set goals at your evaluation and once the therapist determines you’ve reached those goals, it’s time to discharge and continue working on the exercises on your own.
Upon discharge, you are provided a maintenance program of exercises to work on at home. If you need the additional motivation, you can ask a family member for help or hire a caregiver or personal trainer to assist you with your exercises.You can also look for senior exercises classes at the local community center or gym. Vortex does not offer classes or wellness visits at this time.
Six months after discharge, we check-in with patients via mail or email. If you’ve experienced any health changes or your balance has noticeably declined, you can come back in for more balance therapy. Physical therapy is covered by Medicare as long as there is medical necessity.
If you are experiencing a decline in your balance, now is the time to act. Speak with your doctor about your balance concerns and ask for a referral to balance therapy. For those in the Bay Area, if you have specific questions about balance therapy, contact our office for more details.