While some people tend to be a little clumsier than others, constantly bumping into things could be a sign of a serious health issue.
For some, poor balance can lead to a decreased quality of life, loss of independence and even severe health complications, according to Ninoska Alvarez, a physical therapist and balance specialist with Brooks Rehabilitation in Florida.
“As we age, the three sensory systems that impact balance — the visual system, somatosensory system and vestibular system — can deteriorate, which results in balance issues,” Alvarez said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
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“Whenever one or more of these systems no longer functions as well as it once did, balance deficits can arise.”
For issues that come on suddenly, stroke is typically the most common issue, Alvarez said.
“For some slower progressive diseases that can cause issues, it may be multiple sclerosis (though initial symptoms can come on suddenly), degenerative diseases in the brain (such as cerebellar degeneration), Parkinson’s disease or Guillain-Barre syndrome,” she said.
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Not all cases of poor balance are linked to serious health issues.
Issues with the inner ear can suddenly change one’s stability, Alvarez noted.
“Gradual worsening of balance can also occur for people who develop peripheral neuropathy (issues affecting the ability of the nerves, usually in the lower leg, to send or receive information),” she said.
Changes after periods of immobilization or lessened mobility — often seen if someone is hospitalized for a while or suffers an injury that affects the ability to stand or walk for a period of time — can also affect balance, Alvarez added.
4 warning signs to know
If you notice any of these red flags, it’s a good idea to reach out to a medical professional for an evaluation, Alvarez advised.
Sign No. 1: Relying on external support
Using railings, furniture, people or other items to help you move around more than usual could indicate that you have trouble maintaining your balance independently, said Alvarez.
“An increase in tripping or stumbling may be a sign of poor balance.”
Sign No. 2: Feeling disoriented in the dark
“If you struggle to navigate your environment in the dark — for example, when using the bathroom in the middle of the night — your body might be trying to tell you that your balance systems aren’t working as they should,” the therapist noted.
Sign No. 3: Feeling unsteady with eyes closed
If you feel unsteady while standing or completing a task with your eyes closed — such as when washing your hair in the shower — that could be a sign that your balance is too reliant on visual input and that one or more of your balance systems are not functioning correctly, according to Alvarez.
Sign No. 4: Vertigo or an increase in tripping
“Vertigo and dizziness can be symptoms of an underlying issue affecting balance, such as problems with the inner ear or vestibular system,” Alvarez told Fox News Digital.
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“An increase in tripping or stumbling may be a sign of poor balance, potentially due to muscle weakness, neurological issues or other factors affecting balance,” she added.
These conditions also increase the risk of falls.
Additional warning signs of more serious issues include sudden significant changes in stability, sudden changes in vision, an inability to speak, the onset of what feels like the “worst headache ever” and sudden weakness in the body, the doctor said.
For non-emergency symptoms, Alvarez recommends seeing a primary care physician, who will likely provide a referral to a neurologist. If there is any concern about an emergency, he said to visit the emergency department of a hospital.
Preventing balance issues
Alvarez shared two of the most effective ways to prevent future balance issues.
“While exercising is fantastic, multi-modal exercise training is even better,” Alvarez said.
“Seek out help if you notice your balance is deteriorating before it results in a fall and potential injury.”
“By engaging in diverse physical activities and targeting cardio, flexibility, mobility and strength as opposed to just one form of exercise, you can ensure that your body, balance and sensory systems are more resilient as you age.”
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Unintentional falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries across every age group, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
To help prevent dangerous spills, Alvarez recommends fall-proofing your home by using nightlights and removing environmental hazards such as throw rugs or electrical cords.
“In addition, always try to keep an eye on pets when moving around, as tripping on dogs or cats can result in a fall,” she warned.
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“It’s essential to understand that balance can always improve,” Alvarez added.
“Please seek out help if you notice your balance is deteriorating before it results in a fall and potential injury.”
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