Why Do I Lose My Balance?


A common question we get at our clinic is, “Why do I lose my balance and fall?” To start with, here are some statistics about falls:

  • Nearly 1 million people per year visit the ER as a result of a fall
  • 1/3 of people age 65+ have had a fall in the last year
  • 1/2 of people age 80+ have had a fall in the last year
  • The projected cost of fall injuries is over $30 billion per year

Who is at risk for falling?

  • Anyone over the age of 55
  • Someone who has a fear of falling or has had a previous fall
  • People with a history of bodily trauma (i.e. a car accident, head injury, or sports trauma)

The human body has many different systems that work together to keep us balanced. The three main ones are vestibular (inner ear), proprioception (joint sensors that sense movement and make corrections to joint position), and vision. The input from these systems synthesize in the brain to control the movement of our body, control our eye movements, and make postural corrections. All of this happens in a reflexive loop. For example, you stumble and instantly react to catch yourself. You see an object thrown at you and you duck. You are standing on a moving train and grab a rail as the train starts moving. All of these are reflexes that help you keep your balance and avoid danger.

As we age, these three systems can lose their ability to collect information rapidly and as a result aren’t as effective in directing your body to respond to stimuli and avoid falls. How do we stop this? Simply put, it’s important to stay active, flexible, and strong. You can work on safely challenging your balance. Try walking on uneven ground or navigating to the bathroom at night in the dark, for example. If you have fallen or are afraid of falling, physical therapy can help. It is easier to learn how to avoid falling by improving your balance, than dealing with injuries that may be sustained as a result of a fall. Physical therapists are specialists in directing treatment that can help improve your balance in a variety of different settings. It’s never too late to improve your balance, regardless of age, and physical therapy can help.