If you feel a little wobbly on your feet, you may chalk it up to the fact that you’re simply growing older. After all, when your muscles, joints and vision don’t work as well as they once did, it can destabilize you—making a fall more likely.
No one wants to break a hip and end up using a walker or living in a nursing home, so you’re probably doing your best to prevent a disabling fall. But are you doing all you can to address the underlying causes of poor balance?
To learn about these hidden culprits, Bottom Line Health spoke with Victor M. Romano, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who diagnoses and repairs ailing bones, joints and muscles. In his practice, he has learned about unexpected issues that can sabotage balance.*
The Misalignment Problem
The medical community has almost entirely ignored two scientific papers published just over a decade ago in Practical Pain Management, which uncovered a missing link in the role that chronic pain and muscle weakness play in causing poor balance.
The problem: If a joint (where two bones connect) is out of correct alignment, the body unconsciously compensates to restore stability. For example, if one of the joints in the right foot is out of alignment, the body unconsciously overuses the left foot. This “compensation” causes left knee pain, weaker muscles on the right side—and poorer balance. Because there are more than 300 joints in the human body, it can be challenging to find a misalignment—even for an orthopedic surgeon!
Dr. Romano’s solution: A series of simple stretches that I have developed and successfully used in my practice over the past five years—called the Romano Stretches—prevent or correct nearly every misalignment that can cause balance problems. By doing these stretches, you will help restore your balance, relieve aches and pains, improve strength and flexibility—and, in turn, prevent falls.
The Romano Stretches
The following stretches address the most common areas where misalignment occurs in the human body, leading to balance problems. Do the stretches daily—you can complete them all in just a few minutes…
• Pelvic stretch. Restoring pelvic balance improves your side-to-side balance and range of motion of your shoulders. You will feel this stretch in the lower back and buttocks.
What to do: While lying flat on your back, grab your right knee with your left hand and bring your knee across your body toward the left side of your chest. At the same time, stretch your right arm and shoulder to the right, keeping them on the floor. (See above.) Turn your head to the right for an additional stretch if you desire. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Next, do the exercise on the other side, grabbing your left knee with your right hand, and stretching your left arm and shoulder to the left while turning your head to the left if you desire. Repeat twice on each side of your body.
• Hip stretch (see photo in title). This stretch helps restore alignment in the back and neck—and is excellent for reversing loss of balance and restoring mobility of the hip. You should feel this stretch in the top of your thigh, particularly toward the hip.
What to do: While standing about six to 12 inches in front of a chair, bend your right leg at the knee so that your foot (toes pointed) and a few inches of your shin rest on the seat of the chair. Lean back to feel a stretch in your right groin. Then slowly bend your left knee slightly to get a deeper stretch. Hold the stretch for five to 10 seconds and return to an upright position. Then do the same stretch with your left leg on the chair behind you, bending your right knee. Repeat twice on each side. If you feel unstable while doing this stretch: Use a chair with arms and hold onto them as you lean back or stand next to a sturdy counter or desk to steady yourself.
• Rib stretch. A misalignment in the ribs can cause pain and weakness in the upper back, neck, shoulders, hands and elbows—all of which can contribute to poor balance. You should feel this stretch in your upper back and ribs.
What to do: While standing, bend your arms to a 90-degree angle and bring your elbows out to your sides, parallel to the ground and just below shoulder level. Forcefully and quickly, pull your elbows backward in two short bursts and repeat two to three times.
• Back stretch. This stretch is excellent for relieving upper and lower back pain. Patients with this problem have impaired balance when moving their heads up or down or turning side to side. This stretch should be felt in your lower back.
What to do: While standing, put your fists against the small of your back and arch your back as far as you can for five to 10 seconds. Relax and slowly exhale while stretching. Repeat two to three times.
*Check with your doctor before starting this—or any new—exercise program.