Your Health

Feeling unsteady? How to recognize signs of a balance disorder

Courtesy of Kim Gladfelter
With everything going on in the course of the day, balance is not often a focus until someone points out that something could be off. Physical therapist Kim Gladfelter says that a certain amount of balance is vital to living a healthy life. For seniors, seeking guidance could help prevent serious falls.

You bump into furniture often. You’ve stubbed your little toe more times than you can count. Are you a little clumsy? Just signs of aging? Or could your balance problem be something bigger?

Most of us rarely realize we have a problem with balance until it’s pointed out and made obvious to us.

Although not everyone has superhuman balance like gymnasts and ice skaters, we need a certain level of balance to help us perform our daily activities without falling over and hurting ourselves.

Following is a review of the most common signs and symptoms to watch for when it comes to wobbly balance and increased risk of falls.

• Dizziness. One of the most common signs is dizziness. Everyone has a dizzy spell now and then, but the word “dizziness” may mean something different to different people.

For some people, dizziness might be a fleeting sensation of spinning. For others, it feels intense and lasts a long time. If you feel as though the room is spinning around you or you’re moving even when you’re sitting or standing still, if you feel lightheaded and experience fainting spells frequently, then it’s a good sign you have a balance problem.

• Poor posture. Another sign that many people ignore as simply a consequence of getting older or sitting at a desk all day is poor posture.

The muscles in your core and lower back work together to hold your spine and pelvis in place. If your muscles are weak, your body will be unstable and you won’t be able to stand steadily for more than a short period of time. Instead, you’ll look slouched and slumped over, which in turn will strain your muscles.

If because of poor posture you find yourself having to lean on things like the grocery cart or the staircase to help you move around, there’s a good chance you need to work on your balance.

• Back pain. Low-back pain is also a sign that your balance is slowly getting worse. The back and core help support the body and keep you standing tall, but if the muscles are weak and your back isn’t straight, then your back will be in pain.

Believe it or not, low-back pain can be brought on by bad balance and a weak core. In fact, all of them go hand-in-hand.

The path to better balance

Something else we hear many of our clients say is that they have to rely on their husband or wife to help them get around the house. Because of their unsteadiness, they often lack the confidence to leave the house in case they lose their balance and fall over in front of people or, worse, have no one there to help them get back up.

There are lots of little signs that your balance is off, and though some are more extreme than others, like falling over unexpectedly or feeling too worried to leave the house, some are more subtle. But if you recognize and act on them quickly, you can help lessen the risk of falls and achieve better balance.

Our clients often arrive at our clinic not knowing how bad their balance really was until we helped them find out.

If you want to prevent dangerous falls, one of the best things you can do is be proactive about getting a physical therapist to perform a medical assessment. Falls are a very important problem for older adults, and can cause worry within families. Older adults who have fallen are at higher risk for a future fall. For a complimentary PhysioFit Discovery Session to determine whether we can help you, call 887-6046.

Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Suite 108, Los Altos. For more information, visit

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