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How Physical Therapy Can Improve Balance, Strength, and Flexibility as You Age

Oct 01, 2023
How Physical Therapy Can Improve Balance, Strength, and Flexibility as You Age
If you’re determined to live a long and productive life, one key is staying — or getting — strong and flexible so that you can avoid or survive a fall. Physical therapy helps you do just that, faster and more safely than you could on your own.

Physical therapy isn’t just a way to recover from an injury or surgery. And it’s not just for professional athletes, either.

In the United States, one in four people over 65 falls every year, and falls are the No. 1 cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults. To stay fall-free, you need to protect your hearing — because you’re three times more likely to fall if you have mild hearing loss — and develop the strength and flexibility your body requires to maintain good balance. 

At Advanced Medical Care in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, our experienced medical team recommends that older adults work with a physical therapist to build strength and flexibility so they’re stable enough to withstand falls. 

Every year at least 32,000 older adults die as a result of a fall. Thousands of others suffer pain and disability due to falls. You can prevent falls in the future by working with a physical therapist now. Here’s how physical therapy keeps you on your feet… and out of the hospital.

Falls aren’t inevitable

Even though falls are common among older adults in the US, falling isn’t an inevitable part of aging. When older adults engage in physical exercise specifically designed to prevent falls, they experience only 1.4 falls per person-year, compared with 2.1 falls in those who don’t get fall-prevention training. 

The National Council on Aging recommends that anyone who has fallen, or is at risk for a fall, receive specialized physical therapy (PT) for fall prevention. A physical therapist can also help identify issues that may contribute to a higher falling risk, such as poor hearing or eyesight, and refer you to specialists for care.

Physical therapists assess your fall risk

Your PT sessions start with an in-depth evaluation. Your therapist conducts a series of tests to assess your:

  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Posture
  • Endurance
  • Walking gait
  • Fitness level

They then custom-design a program to help you gain greater strength, flexibility, and balance to reduce your risk for a fall.

Getting stronger keeps you upright

A physical therapist works to strengthen your core, ankles, knees, and hips so you’re more likely to stay upright. When the muscles in your lower body and core are strong, you can better maintain balance even when confronted with uneven sidewalks, stairs, and other fall risks.

For instance, the evidence-based Otago Exercise Program (OEP) has been shown to reduce falls by 35%-40%. You start with four PT visits and then practice at home three times a week. Eventually, you move into a management phase that you maintain with regular check-ins.

Exercises that build strength to prevent falls include:

  • Heel-toe walks
  • Leg raises
  • One-leg balances
  • Foot taps
  • Head rotations
  • Sit-to-stand
  • Standing marches
  • Walking

Based on your fitness level, your PT may also recommend that you work with weights or resistance bands. Resistance exercise also has been shown to have cognitive benefits.

Becoming flexible helps you recover balance

When you’re both strong and flexible, you may be able to recover your balance even after a fall has started. Stretching helps keep your joints mobile and fluid and also protects your muscles, joints, and tendons. Some stretches that can help you stay flexible for quick recovery include:

  • Quadricep stretch
  • Seated knee to chest
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Calf stretch
  • Overhead side stretch
  • Shoulder stretch
  • Tricep stretch
  • Chair lunge
  • Standing hip flexor

Your physical therapist may also recommend you engage in exercise classes that put a premium on stretching, such as yoga. 

Physical therapy helps injured tissues heal

In addition to helping you gain strength, flexibility, and endurance, PT can address specific problem areas for you and recommend treatments. To reduce muscle and tissue tightness and promote increased circulation, you could benefit from:

  • Acupuncture
  • Light therapy
  • Cold laser therapy
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Manual traction and joint mobilization
  • Therapeutic ultrasound
  • Vestibular rehabilitation

We may also recommend deep-tissue massage to release trigger points and tension and to promote overall relaxation.

It’s never too early to start

Even if you’re not yet an older adult, consider adding PT into your regimen if you want to age well. By identifying your weaknesses and countering them with exercises customized for you, you can get stronger and build more endurance with a physical therapist than you could on your own.

To build your strength and learn to better maintain your balance in a safe and friendly environment, contact the physical therapy team at Advanced Medical Care today.

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At Advanced Medical Care, care is not just a part of our name — it is in our hearts. Our providers strive to put our patients first and find solutions to meet their needs on every level. If you’re ready to start improving your health, we encourage you to schedule an appointment at our office in Queens or Brooklyn.