Balance, or a state of equilibrium, is achieved by accurate organization of sensory input from our visual system, special sensation from our muscles, tendons, joints (proprioception) and our balance organ (the vestibular system in the inner ear). The sensory information is processed by different parts of the brain to keep our vision and body stable during movement.
Imbalance, or disequilibrium, occurs when one or more of these systems aren’t working well. An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the balance nerve and impairs the vestibular system. Imbalance is one of multiple possible symptoms that individuals may experience before and/or after treatment of an acoustic neuroma.
To improve a person’s balance and ability to function throughout his or her day, movement is critical, according to research. Physical therapists teach individuals exercises that help the brain compensate for the vestibular dysfunction related to an acoustic neuroma. These exercises, done multiple times throughout the day, require head movements while maintaining vision on a target and challenge balance while standing and walking.
Many individuals with acoustic neuroma experience an improvement in balance after completing physical therapy. However, balance is not static. Balance is continually changing and is impacted by many factors including aging, changes in vision, psychological factors such as high stress and anxiety, fatigue, illness, medications and muscle strength/flexibility. Sometimes, even after great improvement, individuals may actually experience a “relapse,” or decline in his or her balance.
Individuals with acoustic neuroma who have noticed a change in their balance should regularly be asking themselves the following questions: “How is my balance? What am I doing to improve and maintain my state of equilibrium? Do I need to modify or update my physical therapy program to achieve my desired goals?”
For more information, contact the USC Acoustic Neuroma Center for a consultation by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273).
by Robbin Howard, PT, DPT, NCS
Associate Director of Physical Therapy Clinical Services