Balance Problems: Causes And Treatment Options
The body's balance is an important system with delicate systemic feedback for keeping all the components in check constantly. Between the brain and the muscles, nerves will give the signal to tighten or relax specific muscle groups to maintain balance.
Sometimes, for various reasons, the signals that the brain sends may get construed or dysfunctional, causing your body to lose its balance. You might get dizzy or keep bumping into things. These signs may be an indication that something could be wrong with your balance system.
Doctors conduct various tests to confirm whether you have a problem with your balance and if you do, what’s causing it. You might need a balance test or a few others if you’re experiencing certain symptoms, like staggering while walking, lightheadedness, blurred or double vision, confusion, and ringing in the ears.
An example of a test is the rotary test, which is also called the rotary chair test. Its purpose is to measure your eye movements. The exam involves sitting on a motorized, computer-controlled chair and wearing special goggles that record your eye movements while the chair slowly moves back and forth and in circular motion.
Like the rotary test, electronystagmography (ENG) and videonystagmography (VNG) tests study your eye movements. A poor vision system negatively affects your ability to maintain balance. During an ENG test, you’ll have electrodes placed over the skin around your eyes whereas a VNG test requires wearing special goggles. In a dark room, you stay seated on an exam chair and then will be asked to focus on and follow patterns of light on a screen. Besides this, you’ll be asked to take different positions as you gaze at the light pattern. After that, warm and cool air or water will be put in both ears, which should make your eyes move in specific ways. But if your eyes don’t respond the way they should, that may mean damage to the nerves in your inner ear.
Another test is posturography, which analyzes your ability to maintain balance while standing. With a landscape screen surrounding you and a safety harness you have to wear, you stand barefoot on a platform, which will rotate to check if you can remain standing on a moving surface.
Read on to learn about the causes and treatment options for balance problems.
- Muscle And Joint -Related Issues
Muscles and joints provide mobility to the body. Your bones have joints and muscles attached to them, making it possible for you to move, sit, stand, walk, jump, and so on. Movement subconsciously happens when you need to change position, as you usually don't think about where to place your feet or when to lift your legs.
The brain and nervous system control the autonomic part of the movement, with nerves running to and from each structure. Nerve pathways create a feedback loop to give the muscles instructions on contraction and relaxation to keep the actions fluid and in sync constantly.
Any issues within the muscles or joints can cause the body to be off balance. If you’re having trouble performing certain tasks or engaging in some activities because of a back problem, you’ll need to consult a specialist, such as Dickinson Neurological Surgery.
- Problems With The Inner Ears
The inner ear does more than helping you hear. It also acts as a gyroscope that measures the body's tilt in any direction. It’s a delicate system of semi-circular canals that contain fluid and tiny receptors. When the fluid in the canals moves, it brushes over the receptors. The receptors will register the changes with the brain to make sense of which direction the body is moving.
A few problems with the inner ears may cause you to be off balance. Patients who are dealing with them usually report nauseating vertigo as a symptom. Moreover, injuries to the head, ear blockages, air pressure changes, medications, and excess fluid in the ears could all cause balance issues.
- Vision-Related Problems
Along with the inner ear, the eyes assist the body in keeping it level. Your eyes scan the horizon at all times, and the brain interprets this relative to where the body is in space. Even when you turn your head, your eyes work with the inner gyroscope of the ears to maintain posture.
Injury to the eyes, muscles that control eye movements, or the nerves relaying information from what they see could lead to a balance problem. The body can, in some cases, compensate for the loss of support from the eyes, but this will require treatment and constant exercise.
- Compromised Nervous System
Nerves are positioned all over the body, and each of them has different functions to perform. They detect changes in temperature, pressure, hot and cold conditions, hunger and thirst, and many other bodily functions. Their job is to relay these messages to the brain, which interprets the information and provides the body with feedback.
Nerve damage can be a result of an injury, swelling around the nerve, pinching nerves between bones, or bleeding that puts extra pressure on your nerves. When this happens, signals may be construed. The brain may not know what to do with the information or send incorrect feedback to the muscles on what to do.
The scrambled messages of the compromised nervous system could affect the ears, eyes, or muscles and joints, leading to balance issues.
- Heart Problems And Blood Pressure
The nerves detect blood pressure changes in your blood vessels, and the brain will notify the heart to adjust its rhythm and speed of pumping to compensate. Blood pressure problems that make it too high or too low would affect the fluid pressure of the inner ear, which produce the same result as ear problems.
Many people with heart conditions would report feeling faint or dizzy and have accidental trips and falls. Regulating the heart rhythm and the pressure it exudes on the blood in your body could prevent balance issues if heart problems and blood pressure changes are the root of the problem.
- Anxiety And Stress
Although mental health issues don't directly affect the balance of your body, they do affect the systems that maintain balance. The reverse is also true, with dysfunctions of the body systems causing you to feel more anxious and stressed.
The vestibular system (or inner gyroscope) can be affected by chemical changes in the brain due to added stress or anxiety. When you encounter a stressful situation, the nervous system becomes overwhelmed, and your balance system that includes your muscles and joints, vestibular organs in the inner ear, and eyes gets affected.
Diabetes is a disease that many people worldwide struggle with daily. Aside from high blood sugar levels, many complications occur because of this condition. One of them is a balance problem.
Changes to the vestibular structures make you feel like you’ll fall over. Your vision gets affected too. Because of these factors, you lose the ability to maintain the right posture.
Some patients with diabetes even develop sores on their feet and toes because of the diminished nerve function there. If they cannot feel their feet properly, it could cause them to stagger and experience balance-related issues, such as dizziness and lightheadedness.
People with a low tolerance for specific medications may feel nauseous and lightheaded after taking them. Pain medication significantly can affect the vestibular balance of the body, making you feel off-center.
These symptoms are generally a sign that the medication may be too strong for you, so you’ll need to consult your doctor immediately. Unfortunately, there are medications that you might have to take, with vertigo being a side effect thereof. In this case, a healthcare professional may add other medicines or treatments that will help offer some relief.
Importance Of Treatment
The most effective way to address any of the above medical problems is to contact a medical professional who will do the necessary tests to find the exact cause. You might have a combination of issues that may contribute to a balance problem, so several tests might be done. Once the cause has been determined, your doctor will advise on the best course of action.
Below are some treatment options that can help address balance problems.
- Balance Retraining Exercises
Also called vestibular retraining or rehabilitation, these physical exercises assist the body in finding its balance again. Sometimes, it may be necessary for you to complete them as part of your recovery from an illness or damage to the structures involved with balance.
The exercises are easy to complete at home, and you should follow the instructions given by your physiotherapist or doctor. Physical therapy is a major part of balance retraining, and it involves specific techniques applied during scheduled sessions.
However, it’s possible that you may not respond to the exercises as well as expected, so you’ll have to be supervised by a therapist in the meantime. Once you’re comfortable enough to complete a home care program on your own, your therapist will recommend a set of exercises for you to perform before the next appointment.
- Body Positioning Procedures
Some exercises may be too taxing on a system that’s already compromised. It’s for this reason that doctors and therapists may use a variety of body positioning techniques to assist you in retraining your vestibular system.
In addition to body positioning techniques is a procedure called canalith repositioning or the Semont maneuver, where a doctor will attempt to move your head and neck to transfer debris inside the inner ear to a space where it can no longer cause balance issues.
Like with any other medical procedure, there are risks involved with this method, such as hip dislocation, fractures, and nerve injuries. So, you shouldn’t try them on your own at home. A trained professional will guide you through the procedure.
- Dietary Considerations And Lifestyle Changes
Apart from physical therapies and exercises, doctors may refer you to a dietician for extra assistance. If you have balance issues, you’ll need to avoid certain food and drinks and follow a meal plan that will help improve your symptoms.
For instance, a diet full of caffeine, salt, sugar, and alcohol worsens the problem. Inadequate water intake negatively impacts the balance system too.
On the other hand, a healthy diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats helps restore the body's overall health and balance since it’s high in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B, magnesium, and potassium.
- Prescription Medications
Before prescribing medications, your doctor needs to figure out the cause. Some medications include those for nausea and dizziness. However, medication isn’t always the best option, so doctors use it as a temporary fix that will aid in your recovery.
- Surgery To Repair Damaged Structures
Nerve damage, pinched nerves due to bone problems, or other aspects of balance problems can improve after surgery. Not all causes of vertigo or balance-related issues require surgery, but a doctor will be able to give the best advice for each specific case.
Surgery may be your option if you have certain conditions, such as acoustic neuroma or Meniere’s disease. Specifically, you might have to undergo stereotactic radiosurgery if you have acoustic neuroma. Without the need for an incision, this kind of surgery involves sending radiation to your tumor.
- Alternative Treatments
In some cases, you may need to add more therapies as part of your treatment. If you prefer an alternative approach, you can consider other options.
An excellent alternative to physical therapies, for example, is kinesiology. There are various forms, including applied, educational, and sports kinesiology practices. Therapists move the body in a specific way and use other methods they’re trained in to improve the vestibular sense or balance of your body.
Patients who don't want to rely on medicines or surgery choose natural remedies provided by an herbalist, a homeopath, or a holistic practitioner. However, not all of these remedies are endorsed by the FDA or regulated by a professional institution, so it’s best to consult your doctor first.
Losing your balance will make it difficult for you to keep up with your daily routine. You stagger while doing an errand. As you make your way to the living room, you become lightheaded and dizzy and bump into a chair. It’s easy to dismiss this matter lightly and pass it off as fatigue or dehydration.
But if you get enough rest and always drink a lot of water but still trip, your loss of balance may be a result of something serious—which you can only find out by visiting your doctor. There are many different factors that may lead to loss of balance. The only way to get to the bottom of the problem is to undergo one or several tests. Once your doctor has found the answer, they’ll develop a treatment plan to help you recover.