Falling is not just an event that may cause some bruising and minor pain, it can also lead to a serious injury such as a broken bone or a concussion. Especially for the elderly, falling can mean the difference between being able to live independently or having to make the transition to an assisted living facility or a nursing home. If you or a loved one are having problems that may lead to an increased risk of falling, it’s important to address the issue before an actual fall occurs.

The Balance System in Review

The body’s ability to maintain balance is derived from a complex system consisting of input from sensorimotor systems such as vision, proprioception (touch), the vestibular (ear) system, along with information obtained from joints and muscles. All of these systems provide input to the brain which processes the received information, then sends coordinated signals back to all the various systems so that they can work together to maintain proper balance.

Balance Issues

If all of the above systems are working and coordinating together as they should, maintaining one’s balance seems virtually effortless. If damage occurs to one of the systems that provide information to the brain, it becomes much more challenging for the body to maintain proper equilibrium.

A person who has problems walking with a normal gait will also be at a higher risk for a fall. Sometimes an individual may have a spinal issue, or a foot or leg deformity in one or both of their lower extremities that causes their gait to deviate from normal. Other people may have difficulty climbing a set of stairs or they may have a shuffling gait because of weak muscles and poor coordination. These conditions also put them at higher risk for a fall. People who have had a stroke or who became injured from a car accident may have difficulty lifting their feet properly and/or may find their toes “catch” on the ground in the middle of their stride, leaving them more vulnerable to a fall.

How Physical Therapy Helps with Balance Issues

Thankfully, the medical and physical therapy fields have come a long way in their ability to successfully treat even complex balance issues. After a thorough evaluation, physical therapists can draw up a comprehensive treatment plan to address any underlying issues that are making a person prone to falling, as well as addressing specific parts of the balance system that may not be functioning correctly. A physical therapist may include vision exercises designed to strengthen the visual portion of the balance system. For other patients who are suffering from vertigo or dizziness, a physical therapist will likely include exercises to strengthen or correct problems in the vestibular area.

During physical therapy, a patient might also be given exercises to improve their gait if there are any abnormalities in their ability to walk, and/or other exercises designed to stretch and strengthen key muscles and joints that all work together to provide the brain with vital signals for maintaining proper balance and coordination. For those who have difficulty climbing stairs and/or those who have difficulty sitting down or getting up from a chair, a physical therapist can provide exercises specially designed to address these issues, as well as recommend an apparatus such as a cane or a walker to help patients stay as mobile as possible.


If you or someone you know are experiencing a loss of balance in any way and are concerned about the possibility of falling, there is help available. Please contact Cawley PT and Rehab at 570-208-2787 today to make an appointment or email us at: