Improving Your Balance with Physical Therpay

Ryan Hastie, PT, DPT, CSCS |


Balance is the ability to maintain one’s center of mass of its base of support. The human body’s balance system works through a constant stream of input from the brain, inner ear, eyes and the joints and muscles in the body.

Problems with balance can occur due to many factors including muscle weakness, stiff joints, inner ear issues, decreased activity levels and certain medications. Problems with balance can also occur as a result of medical conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s, MS, brain or spinal cord injury, arthritis and diabetes. Poor or decreased balance can lead to falls, which is the leading cause of injury for those 65 years of age or older. According to studies, more than 40% of older adults are affected by balance difficulties.

Common symptoms of balance deficits include falls, dizziness, vertigo or feeling unsteady on your feet. There are multiple systems in the body that work together to allow us to maintain balance when upright. The systems that comprise the human balance system are:

Eyes: sensory receptors in the retina called rods and cones. Rods assist with vision in low light environments. Cones help with color vision and fine detail.

Muscles and joints: proprioceptive info from the skin, muscles and joints comes from sensory receptors that detect pressure and stretch. For example, increased pressure along the back potion of the sole of the foot indicates the body is leaning backward. Any movement of the body sends impulses to the brain indicating what the body is doing.

Vestibular system: inner ear, consists of the utricle, saccule and semicircular canals. Sensory info regarding motion, equilibrium and spatial orientation is relayed to the brain via the vestibular apparatus. The semicircular canals detect rotational movement. Utricle and saccule detect gravity (vertical) and linear movement.

Information from these sensory organs is sent to the brain stem where it is sorted and integrated by various portions of the brain. Once this integration takes place, the brain stem sends impulses to the body’s muscles to control movement of the head, eyes, trunk and legs to allow someone to maintain their balance.

Physical therapists are trained to assess a patient’s balance and why deficits are present. Your PT can treat your balance difficulties by identifying the cause and designing a treatment program that is individualized to the patient. Most treatment programs will consist of strengthening, balance, mobility and flexibility exercises.

If you or a loved one have been struggling with balance problems, please reach out to your local Doctor of Physical Therapy for an in-depth assessment and treatment plan to minimize the harmful effects of falls. Please do not suffer alone, there are people out there ready and able to help! Physical therapists improve the way you move!