Types of Balance Impairments
Impairments in balance can impact your sense of safety as you engage in all sorts of activities, especially walking. If you have a balance impairment, you may even begin to limit what you do out of fear of falling or a sense of insecurity. It is important to seek support for this issue because many solutions are available to help you regain a sense of confidence and stability.
Weakness or muscle imbalance:
- MS can result in muscle weakness or imbalance that can result in a host of balance issues – foot drop can lead to tripping, perhaps the knee feels as though it might collapse, maybe one side is much stronger than the other side. To address this issue, a physical therapist (PT) might prescribe strengthening exercises or recommend a leg brace or assistive device. Using proper support or learning how to use your body differently can dramatically change your sense of balance.
- MS can affect your sensation, resulting in difficulty feeling your body. You may feel numb on the bottom of your feet, have more difficulty feeling one side of your body, or even have trouble sensing where your body is in space. This can lead to a somatosensory balance impairment – because you have trouble with sensation, the body cannot react quickly to the environment and make adjustments in real time. A leg brace or assistive device might help with this issue, as will exercises to increase awareness of the sensation you do have.
- MS sometimes affects the vestibular system, a complex system that begins in the inner ear and helps the body coordinate balance with eye movements. If this system is impacted, you may sometimes experience sensations such as head spinning, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and greater difficulty in busy, stimulating environments. Vestibular problems require specialized treatment, but often respond to specific exercises and activities.
- People often don’t realize that visual deficits can greatly impact balance! You may find your balance is worse at night or in a darker room, or that falls often occur when you get out of bed to use the bathroom. It is important to make sure you see as clearly as possible, and tools are available to make your environment easier to see and navigate. A PT or occupational therapist (OT) can assist with making these changes.
If you are experiencing issues with your balance, ask your doctor to set up an evaluation with a PT to determine the appropriate treatment and solutions.