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Sharp Health News

How physical therapy can help with balance issues

Aug. 3, 2016

How physical therapy can help with balance issues

Katya Hurwitz, PT, demonstrates how to test for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV).

Balance issues and dizziness are often perceived as a normal part of aging, but that’s a common misconception. These issues can range from a sense of instability to actually falling down. Our balance is controlled by three bodily functions that help us stay upright: vision, senses from our body and the vestibular system. The vestibular system is located in our ears and provides sensory information on motion, equilibrium and spatial orientation.

“Naturally, we use these three functions to keep us balanced, but it depends greatly on the environment,” explains Shelley Davern, an occupational therapist at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “For example, if we are in a dark room, our brain can’t rely on vision, so it will rely on the other two functions — sensation from our body and vestibular. If a problem occurs in any of these functions, we can experience instability or imbalance.”

This instability can be associated with diabetes, cardiac issues, infection, inactivity, dehydration and more. Symptoms associated with balance problems can range from feeling as though you are being pushed; veering or staggering; a constant sense of movement; and the sensation of falling.

“Dizziness is not a normal process of aging,” says Katya Hurwitz, a physical therapist at Sharp Chula Vista. “The most common cause of dizziness is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), in which crystals that are supposed to be in the ear get lodged in a place they aren’t supposed to be. Symptoms of BPPV are characterized by feeling as though the room is spinning or experiencing dizziness while laying down or rolling over in bed.”

Fortunately, BPPV, dizziness and balance issues can be treated. Through physical and occupational therapy, specialists are able to evaluate each function — vision, body senses and vestibular — and assess any deficits.

“The balance and vestibular program at Sharp Chula Vista evaluates, assesses and provides patients with an exercise-based program specific to their needs,” explains Davern. “Exercises may include muscle strengthening, general endurance activities like walking, exercises that address the use of sensory input and others. The goal of therapy is to improve confidence, decrease fall risk and help the patient return to activities that they may have had to stop or modify due to their dizziness or instability.”

In order to prevent balance issues, it is essential to stay active to keep the body strong. Besides staying active, healthy behaviors also play an important role, including staying hydrated, properly managing medications, eating a balanced diet, completing a yearly checkup with a primary care provider and getting adequate sleep.

If you are concerned about balance issues, talk with your primary care doctor about Sharp Rehab’s Balance and Vestibular Program.

For the media: To talk with a Sharp doctor about balance issues and physical therapy, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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