Balance is the ability to keep yourself centered as you walk, sit, and engage in other movements. It allows you to control and adjust your body before, during and after movement to keep from falling.
Balance requires functional muscle strength, vision, vestibular function (inner ear), sensation in the skin, muscles, tendons, and joints (known as proprioception). It also requires cognitive function and movement planning. When you are keeping your balance, your brain is continually processing inputs and information from multiple senses and body parts. The brain then sends directions out to the body’s motor and sensory system (muscles in the arms, legs, core, and eyes) to keep you centered.
- Common causes of balance problems after a concussion include:
- Changes in blood pressure
- The actual injury to the brain
- Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, fear of falling, or fear of moving
- Sensory impairments, such as blurry vision
- Impairments in motor control
- Dizziness, which is a sensation of light-headedness, spinning, or nausea.
Balance is important not only for walking but for doing all daily activities. Poor balance can keep you from taking part in activities such as sports, driving, and work. Issues with balance and dizziness can increase the risk of falls and injuries, including another head injury. It can have an impact on your abilities and your mental health and well-being.
How can I improve my balance?
Balance problems will usually improve over time with activity and exercises. The more you move, the more you improve. You may be referred to a physiotherapist or other specialist who can help you with your balance. Many people with a concussion will have problems with quick movements, running, sports, and high-level balance activities. Some people will recover completely, while others may have lasting deficits that change their daily lives.
If one or more of your balance systems are not working well, you can try to improve your balance by focusing on areas that are working. For example, if you have poor vision, make sure you have good shoes, optimal lighting, and vision aids
Other ways to cope with balance problems include:
- Avoid alcohol or other substances that can impair your sense of balance
- Clear high-traffic areas in your home
- Hold onto a family member or caregiver’s arm if you feel unsteady
- Use adequate lighting and nightlights (for example, smart lights that can be controlled by voice or by phone).
- Use mobility aids such as canes and walkers, if recommended by a healthcare professional
- Wear proper footwear (closed toe and heel, well fitting, flat-heeled)
- Work with an occupational therapist to make changes to your home environment such as railings on stairs, installing railings and safety chairs in the bathroom, and removing rugs or other tripping hazards
If this is happening to you, start tracking when you get dizzy or lose your balance. Write down what you were doing and how you were feeling before the episode and share these notes with your doctor. They may want to complete tests to check your balance, coordination, vision, and hearing. Depending on your doctor’s findings, they may recommend some types of therapy or specific exercises