Loss of balance while walking may be experienced by many people at some point or other during their life. People have different gaits and styles of walking and the presentation of loss of balance can vary from person to person. Aged people may experience loss of balance while walking more often. While this is a common phenomenon, it could also indicate an underlying medical problem. Particularly, if the loss of balance while walking is experienced more often and in association with other complaints, it is better to seek medical opinion.
What Can Cause Loss of Balance While Walking?
Loss of balance while walking can result from a variety of conditions affecting the natural balance system. Balance problems or balance disorders are commonly presented with loss of balance while walking, unsteady gait and sometimes even dizziness and vomiting. Some of the common causes of loss of balance while walking include.
Loss of Balance While Walking Caused Due to Ear Problems and Vertigo
Inner ear is mainly in charge of the vestibular system, which takes control of the balance system. Inner ear problems like labyrinthitis, Meniere’s disease; middle ear problems like otitis media with middle ear effusion can cause loss of balance while walking.
Vertigo, is a dizzy feeling with loss of balance when moving. Any injury to the inner ear, migraine, vestibular neuritis or positional vertigo can cause loss of balance while walking. Other symptoms may include dizziness, nausea, motion sickness, blurring of vision, etc. Sometimes, tinnitus or ringing sounds may be heard in the ears or there may be fullness in ears.
Vertigo can sometimes result from sudden changes in posture and resultant low blood pressure (postural hypotension). Fainting or near fainting conditions can occur causing loss of balance while walking. Vertigo can sometimes be an indication of more serious conditions like stroke, in which case there may be sudden changes in speech, weakness or pain in face or arm. Other conditions causing vertigo and loss of balance while walking include multiple sclerosis and disorders of brain like brain hemorrhage.
Loss of Balance While Walking Caused Due to Neurological Problems
Conditions affecting the neck and back, resulting in nerve damage can cause loss of balance while walking. Other neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord problems or injury to the nerves can cause balance problems while walking. Sensory integration issues, which can affect a person’s reactions to light, sound, touch and movement can cause loss of balance while walking.
Loss of Balance While Walking Caused Due to Joint and Muscle Problems
As joints, supporting muscles and soft tissues play an important role in walking steadily, any conditions affecting the joints, muscles, ligaments and surrounding tissues can cause loss of balance while walking. Injuries to bones and soft tissues too can cause difficulty in walking with easy loss of balance and co-ordination. It may be more common when joints and muscles in the lower limbs are involved like hips, knees and ankles. Common conditions include cervical spondylosis, lumbar or back problems, spinal problems, arthritis, muscle strains, sprains or ligament and cartilage injuries, etc.
Loss of Balance While Walking Caused Due to Eye Problems
Disorders affecting the eye, vision and aging problems can lead to inadequate viewing of objects, which makes it difficult to walk confidently. People who are suffering from eye conditions like cataracts, glaucoma, degeneration, complications of diabetes and other retinal problems may have difficulty in seeing and balancing while walking. It may be associated with complaints of the eyes, pain, vision problems, etc.
Loss of Balance While Walking Caused Due to Medications
Loss of balance while walking can commonly occur due to consumption of certain medications taken for treating existing ailments. Some of these medicines include sedatives, anti-depressants, anti-epileptic drugs and some medicines taken to lower blood pressure.
Certain food and drug combinations, intake of alcohol with some medications can cause balance problems while walking.
Others Causes for Loss of Balance While Walking
Other conditions that can cause loss of balance involve head injury, trauma to the brain or concussion, skull fractures, temporomandibular joint disorders, circulatory disorders affecting adequate blood circulation in the body, tumors and cancers affecting the brain, face and neck area. Nutritional deficiencies due to inadequate vitamins can affect normal nerve signals and cause loss of balance while walking.
Common occurrences like aging, pregnancy, lack of proper sleep, rise in body temperature or fever due to an infection, electrolyte imbalance due to excessive water loss, consumption of alcohol or inadequate consumption of food or water too can cause unsteady gait and sometimes contribute to loss of balance while walking.
Treatment & Management of Loss of Balance While Walking
Clinical history and physical examination helps to understand the possible cause of loss of balance while walking and vertigo. Investigations like x-rays, scans and blood tests may be ordered to rule out possible causes, based on the history.
Treatment for loss of balance while walking includes treating underlying balance disorders and medical conditions. Medications to control dizziness and other associated symptoms may be prescribed. Head injury, skull fractures, stroke or circulatory problems may require immediate medical care. Any medications, if found to be triggering the problem, are stopped and other alternatives may be considered by the physician.
Management of balance problems includes rest, which may be advised in most cases. Vertigo and loss of balance while walking can be managed by avoiding sudden movements or changes in posture. Make sure lighting conditions are good and avoid walking in the dark. Wear comfortable footwear to get better grip and avoid falling. Handrails at home, cane or walker may be used as appropriate. Gradual changes, moving slowly and having support at hand can to better deal help with the condition.