Physical therapy is a valuable resource to learn how to prevent falls or support someone who has had a fall. The goal of physical therapy is to help the person maintain their independence. As we age, changes in muscle strength, balance, and flexibility become more pronounced, increasing the risk of falls.
Physical therapists specialize in designing customized exercise programs that address these concerns and help us strengthen our bodies to prevent falls.
There are several methods of physical therapy used for fall prevention:
- Vestibular Rehabilitation: Vestibular physical therapy is designed for those who are managing inner ear or vestibular system disorders, which can cause dizziness and balance problems. Therapists use specific exercises and maneuvers to improve inner ear function and reduce dizziness.
- Geriatric Physical Therapy: Geriatric physical therapists specialize in addressing the unique needs of older adults. They focus on balance, mobility, strength, and flexibility exercises to help seniors maintain their independence and reduce the risk of falls.
- Neurological Physical Therapy: If you are coping with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or multiple sclerosis you may experience balance issues. Neurological physical therapists work on enhancing balance and coordination through targeted exercises and interventions. Specialized neurological therapy can also focus on using your mind to control the movements that usually your extremities just naturally do. This type of therapy is specifically helpful for those who have neuropathy in their feet, legs, or both.
- Orthopedic Physical Therapy: Orthopedic physical therapists address musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. They can help improve balance by working on strength, flexibility, and posture through exercises and manual therapy techniques.
- Gait Training: Gait training is a specialized form of physical therapy that focuses on improving your walking pattern. Therapists analyze and help you adjust the way you walk to promote stability and prevent falls. If being used, they also assist with the use of adaptive devices like canes and walkers to increase mobility.
- Tai Chi and Yoga-Based Therapy: Tai Chi and yoga-based therapies combine movement, balance, and relaxation techniques to improve balance and stability. These mind-body practices can be particularly beneficial for fall prevention.
- Aquatic Therapy: Water-based therapy in a pool setting that offers buoyancy and resistance, making it an excellent option for balance training. Aquatic therapy exercises can enhance strength and stability while minimizing the risk of injury. Even if you don’t participate in specific aquatic therapy, water aerobics and swimming are good activities to add to your own exercise routine.
- Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES): FES uses electrical impulses to stimulate weakened muscles and improve mobility and stability if you are dealing with conditions like paralysis or muscle weakness.
- Task-Specific Training: This approach involves practicing activities and tasks that you may encounter in daily life, such as stepping onto curbs, navigating stairs, or reaching for objects. Task-specific training helps improve balance in real-life situations.
- Home Exercise Programs: Physical therapists often develop home exercise programs tailored to your specific needs. They can examine your home and develop a plan that fits your home and find ways to make it safer. These exercises can be performed independently to maintain and improve balance. Through targeted exercises, physical therapy can improve muscle strength, coordination, and balance. These exercises are designed to challenge individuals at a safe and manageable level, gradually enhancing their physical abilities. Furthermore, physical therapists teach techniques to prevent falls, such as how to recover balance and how to navigate obstacles safely.
Regular sessions with a physical therapist not only provide seniors with valuable tools for fall prevention but also offer a supportive environment for addressing any physical concerns or limitations. By investing in physical therapy, seniors can work towards better overall physical well-being and reduce the risk of falls that can lead to injuries and diminished quality of life.
Please enjoy the next blog in our fall awareness series: Fall Prevention Week: Encouraging Help: How to Approach a Loved One About Consulting with an Aging Life Care Manager® About Balance and Falling Issues