Balance: A View From A Survivor

By Lin Wisman

Like many stroke survivors I have struggled with regaining my balance, On a scale of 1 –10, my balance after my stroke was –5. I did not realize how bad it was. One therapist asked if I really wanted to walk again. I was very surprised at the question. Of course I wanted to walk again.

After eight years I can walk unassisted, but don’t do so outside of my home. I am still unsteady. My biggest fear is other people, who often are not conscious of others' problems. I also find it easier to walk inside that out.  

I have worked to regain my balance. Listed below are some of my learnings.

The vestibular system, as I understand it, is a mechanism in your inner ear, which helps to regulate balance. A series of exercises called Vestibular Exercises have been developed to improve function. A friend who does medical research suggested that I try these. I found the exercises through the Internet. Type Vestibular Exercises into a search engine. Some of the exercises can be accomplished while sitting. When I first began doing the exercises I experienced nausea. The nausea disappeared in a few days. I found these exercises to be helpful. They are certainly worth a try.

I understand that the brainstem also helps to regulate balance. My stroke was in the brainstem so it makes sense why I have the problem. I have never come across any information to help the brainstem to relearn its part in balance. 

I happened upon a book, “How to Prevent Falls,” which I found enlightening. One explanation is of the Balance Point or Center of Gravity. The book explains how to find your Balance Point. This was a new concept to me, and one, which has greatly improved my balance. There are also many balance exercises shown. Find the book at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0962103152/102-7147075-1736916?_encoding=UTF8&v=glance

My feet are still numb and tingly, although they continue to improve with time. The fact that I do not have total feeling creates balance issues. It was explained to me that your brain receives messages from your feet, which help balance. Because I do not have complete feeling my brain is probably not receiving enough messages. Also my research shows that foot and toe flexibility help with balance. I do assorted exercises to promote flexibility. The book mentioned above includes a number of exercises.

Walking has been an important part of my routine. I now take an hour walk early in the morning and a 30 minute walk in the late afternoon. I have worked up to this amount of walking. When I first began walking after my stroke I counted steps, adding more each day. Walking has helped my balance by forcing me to practice keeping it.

Water aerobics have also been crucial. There are many movements I could not make on land which were possible with the water as support. As my movements improved in the water they improved on dry land. I found a class for arthritis patients at my local park district.

Acupuncture and bodywork have helped in at least two ways. They have improved the feeling in my feet. Also body movements have become more fluid. Because I move my body more easily, my balance has improved.

Eighteen months after my stroke I was told about carts. At the time I was struggling because I was walking with two quad canes, and could not carry anything while walking. I purchased a cart. It immediately expanded my world. I could place items in the cart and “carry” them. I could place a cup of tea on the tray and take it to another room to drink. I could take longer walks because it has a built in seat so I didn’t have to limit distance or include where benches were located in my walking plan. Finally, it made walking more secure . To see what I mean by a cart go to http://www.noblemotion.com. This particular cart is not the cheapest on the market, but I believe it is the best. If one is going to be using the cart a lot it is worth the investment.

For a long time I did not have a tremendous fear of falling. This is because the worse that happened to me initially were bruises and bent glasses. Then in April of 2003 I fell and dislocated my shoulder. This set back my stroke recovery. Not only did the shoulder need to heal, but also I needed rotator cuff surgery in August 2003. My biggest learning from this experience is to always to be very conscious of balance and to continue to work at it.

General fitness has improved primarily through exercise. As my fitness has improved balance has improved. Because I am able to use my body more effectively my balance does not have to try to compensate. The learning here for balance is to keep moving.

Because I have continued to work at balance it has continued to improve. Because it has continued to improve I have been motivated to continue to work at it.

 

 

The author does not have any medical training. The ideas given above are based on her experience as a stroke survivor. They are shared as a way to help others on their recovery journey.

 

 

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