By focusing on prevention, team members of one local physical therapy practice strive to help patients strike the proper physical balance for various life stages.
"Our mission is to turn the focus of healthcare from 'sick care' to 'well care,'" says Bob Carpenter, physical therapist and owner of FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers in Lexington.
Their Balance Therapy Program is most popular for those 60 to 85 years old, because physical challenges resulting from bad falls can become constant worries for seniors. Indeed, falls are the leading cause of U.S. injury-related deaths and serious health problems.
A good sense of balance is essential to everyday functions because it allows people to recognize their position relative to surfaces on which they’re standing, walking or running.
FYZICAL's Vestibular Therapy initiative includes a computerized VOS Balance system. That digital system aids in assessing and treating inner ear and somatosensory issues. Bob says the system is beneficial in helping patients with balance difficulties, post-concussion symptoms, vertigo, motion sickness and sensory disorders.
"We can help patients recover from head impacts during accidents, such as in auto crashes or falling off ladders," Bob adds. "Many people don't know they can do something about debilitating post-concussion issues, rather than just slowly waiting for them to subside."
For some people who have unexplained vertigo, FYZICAL professionals can test to determine if sensory mismatches are occurring. Bob says they've discovered some people become foot-dependent rather than eye-reliant for balance or vice versa, so FYZICAL specialists use their resources to identify the mismatch and perform exercises to re-train the systems to work properly.
Sending Out an SOS
FYZICAL also has a proprietary SOS (Safety Overhead Support) system to assist with balance challenges. This is a new tracking system with a harness that allows patients to move around freely at the center so their balance can be challenged through one-on-one exercise sessions, without the fear or possibility of falling.
Bob says the SOS system also is a wonderful way to help amputees learn to walk or run with new prosthetic devices or to assist a patient with Parkinson’s in stabilizing their walking skills, or “gait.”
“Balance and gait are inextricably linked because they tend to impact one another. Even if you don’t think you’re in danger of falling, if you’re running out of steam while walking or find yourself shuffling your feet or catching them on rugs in the house due to aging muscles, it could be a big issue,” Bob says. “The problem might actually be slowing reflexes. By the same token, poor posture and gait can throw off those reflexes.”
In fact, the balance and gait systems both rely, to some extent, on a complex number of body systems that include the inner ear, the eyes, the joint-muscle-nerve system and cognitive functions. Bob says that therapy improving gait and balance works with all of these systems to keep them functioning in harmony.
Hip, knee and ankle weakness often leads to balance problems, as does poor posture. Strength and flexibility exercises can help counteract these problems, something as simple as leg lifts while seated in a chair, or what’s called “knee marching."
“We may also practice single-leg exercises, walking heel-to-toe or tracking the movement of your thumb with your eyes as you move it in various positions," Bob says "The goal for our therapists is finding what combination is best for each patient’s needs.”
FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers therapists realize how important balance and walking is for independent living, as well as for work activities, exercise, sports and enjoying life.