Staying Steady on Your Feet

Shirley Jacobson stepped up to the plate to fight colon cancer, but the treatments caused numbness in her feet and left her feeling disoriented. The active woman who played in community bands found herself literally becoming a wall flower - staying near a wall because she didn't trust that she wouldn't fall.

Shirley's not alone. More than 90 million Americans have experienced a balance or dizziness problems. Pat Pfannenstiel, a physical therapist with Stormont-Vail Outpatient Rehabilitation Services, says balance problems are the second-leading reason people visit the doctor.

Pfannenstiel says the reasons behind the problems are varied. He says the cause can be any of the three components of balance - the visual input; the inner ear, or vestibular system; and the sensation throughout the body, including muscle strength. Many times, he says, it's a combination of the areas.

Once the cause of a balance problem is identified, various exercises can help a person regain their sense of balance. Pfannenstiel says many of the exercises train the eye, ear and brain to work together, often through certain head, neck and eye movements. Strengthening actions for the muscles are also a focus. It all serves a practical purpose.

"Basically the goal is to prevent a person from falling or breaking a hip and keep them in the living environment they're in," Pfannenstiel says.

Shirley saw a difference in just a few weeks. She says she didn't feel disoriented and felt stronger. She says she was able to forget about being so cautious and relax a bit again.

If you're concerned about about a balance problem, you can contact Stormont-Vail's Outpatient Rehab Services at (785) 354-6116 to see if you might be a candidate for evaluation and treatment.


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