Dear Dr. Garner,
I have a terrible problem. As I’m standing and talking to someone in the street, or merely walking slowly, I find myself getting dizzy and almost falling. It’s not as though things are spinning around me. I get a sense of being on a boat bobbing up and down. It almost feels like I might tip over.
I don’t want to fall and break a hip, which is my main fear.
What do you think about this, and what can I do to prevent it? My legs feel really weak at times.
Not Balanced in
Dear Not Balanced,
Your question about balance is a common one. It affects many people. Almost half of Americans will experience imbalance in their lifetime. It is important to fully evaluate balance as it can be a sign of serious underlying medical conditions or related to medications, an inner ear problem or brain issues. It can affect you emotionally and physically.
It is important to seek medical care if you feel dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, confusion, are falling or have a fear of falling. These are symptoms that accompany imbalance. Other symptoms are feeling unsteady, feeling that the room spins around you, losing your balance and becoming disoriented. The symptoms may come and go, but can last for a long time and make one tired and depressed.
People on anti-depressants, tranquilizers, antibiotics, certain pain killers and chemotherapy may be at risk for experiencing balance problems. Ear infections can also cause balance disorders.
Falling down due to poor balance is one of the most common problems as one ages. A fall can lead to complications that can cause disability and even death. The key is to build strength in your muscles. As one becomes inactive, the body starts to become less flexible and less strong. Simple movements like walking can become a challenge. In general, people who are fit fall less often.
Imbalance is quite a complicated process, although usually treatable. I will address treatment of balance problems with simple exercises you can perform at home.
Doing balance exercises improves coordination and keeps muscles and bones strong. As always, speak to your doctor before you begin. The exercises are as follows:
- Stand on one foot. You can do this while waiting in line at the store. Hold onto your shopping cart for stability. Remember to alternate feet. This will help strengthen the muscles of the lower body. You can also lean against a wall until you become more steady.
- Walk heel to toe. This is similar to what a policeman does when performing a sobriety test. Your heel should just about touch the toes of the back foot.
- Practice standing up and sitting down from a chair without using your hands. This can help stabilize the abdominal (core) and muscles of the thighs, and provide both support as well as improved balance.
- Aim to use the stairs. This does not have to be done to the point where you are out of breath, but walking up the stairs each day can help strengthen the muscles of your thighs and waist, and provide support for improved balance.
While the above may seem simple, they are effective in maintaining balance and can be done anywhere. Some benefits include improved posture, improved sporting performance, stability of the spine and as a result, less serious injury.
I urge all of our readers to perform these simple exercises, particularly those who are senior citizens. The benefit of exercise is reduced falls and reduced hip fractures – a leading causes of death in elderly patients.
Balance is not something you are born with. It is a matter of practice. If we do not exercise balance, we lose it. And the less active we are, the more likely that our bodies will deteriorate.
To give you an idea of how serious this topic is, more women will die of fall-related problems than breast cancer each year. So I also highly recommend yoga and tai chi, as well as a personal trainer to help you jump-start the process, if affordable.
Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.