Balance therapy is a generalized category of physical therapy exercises to help an individual improve their balance. The ultimate goals of balance therapy are to prevent falls and increase a person’s functional abilities and independence, both at home and in the community.
These goals are driven by the following 4 main factors:
1. Lifestyle. Is the person sedentary with hobbies such as reading, playing bridge, or watching TV? Is the person active with hobbies such as golf, tennis, boating, or gardening?
2. Location. Where does the person live, and what are the obstacles they encounter in their home or community? For instance, my balance therapy practice is located in Sarasota, Florida. In order for my patients to function safely in the community, they need to be able to walk on uneven parking lots or sidewalks, and walk up and down the periodic ramp or curb. Most of the homes in Sarasota are condos or single story homes with only one step to enter the building. The only reason a person might walk on the grass would be if they are a golfer, enjoy gardening, or enjoy walking on uneven surfaces at the beach or local parks. However, if they are a snowbird and only come to Florida in the winter, when they return to their home up north they may live in a 2-story home with 5 steps to enter. The bedroom and bathroom may be upstairs, and the washing machine down in the basement, and they may have a cobblestone driveway. I think you get the idea…
3. Personal choice. What does the person want to achieve or be able to do that they cannot currently do because of poor balance? This is different for every person. Some people just want to be able to walk around their home without falling, and to go to the grocery story or doctor’s office on their own. Some people want to improve their balance so that they do not need to use a cane or walker. Some people have given up a sport they used to love because of their poor balance, and their goal is to return to playing golf or tennis again with their friends.
4. Health Status. A person’s underlying health status plays a factor in setting reasonable goals. For instance, if the person has terrible arthritis in their knees, a reasonable goal is probably not that they would be able to run a marathon or climb Kilimanjaro. However, it may be reasonable that they should be able to climb a flight of stairs safely, or be able to walk their dog each morning with good balance.
I want to encourage you to think about your personal goals and discuss these things with your balance therapist. Having good goals with motivate you to do your home exercise program, and allow you to chart your progress.
Included image: Balance, a painting by Norval Morrisseau
Money Matters (Selected Part of Letters from Aunt Evelyn), conceptual art by Barton Lidice Benes, 1982.
This is an article that I thought I would never write. When I first started working as a physical therapist, I worked for a big hospital in Manhattan. I never had to think about insurance, because basically the hospital accepted every type of insurance there was! In fact, these were the days when there was no such thing as a co-payment. When co-pays did come along, for many years the hospital never attempted to collect the 5 to 10 dollars per visit. But that was 17 years ago, and a lot has changed now.
Things really started to change after Obama care. I not saying that I am either for or against Obama care, I am just saying that things are very different now. For example, in order to have insurance, many families are choosing insurance where the deductible is 5 to 6 thousand dollars per year! This means that the patient has to pay the first 5 or 6 thousand dollars in medical services, thus meeting their deductible, before their physical therapy services are covered. In addition, the person usually has a co-pay required at each physical therapy session, which can be as high as 50 to 75 dollars per visit with some plans. Take the time to consider these factors when choosing your insurance needs.
At Equinox Physical Therapy, we check a patient’s insurance benefits before they even arrive for their first visit. I am a standard Medicare Part B provider for out-patient physical therapy services. That means that I accept standard Medicare Part B because I am committed to treating people over 65 years of age who have balance problems, dizziness, vertigo, falls, inner ear problems, concussion, or facial paralysis. I don’t want my Medicare patients to fall and break a hip, when I know that I can help them to enjoy their retirement in sunny Sarasota, Florida, and live a long and healthy life! Medicare pays 80% for out patient physical therapy services, and most people have a secondary insurance that covers all or part of the remaining 20% of the bill.
As far as other types of insurance, I see patients who do not have Medicare, but some other type of insurance, and in these cases I am classified as an “out-of-network” physical therapy provider. Because I am not a major hospital, I cannot accept every insurance under the sun, because it would be too much for my small practice to manage.
Why would someone come to me, an out-of-network provider, when they could see someone in-network instead? That should be your next question. The reasons are probably many. When I see a private insurance patient, they pay me, and then I give them the papers they need to submit their physical therapy bills to their insurance company. Then, their insurance company will reimburse the patient directly for whatever their out-of-network physical therapy benefits are. The patient calls their insurance company to verify their benefits before they even step inside my door. They know exactly the percentage that their insurance company will reimburse them, and the percentage that they will have to pay of the remaining bill.
Again, why would someone come to me instead of going to his or her “in-network” provider? For one thing, many of these patients have BPPV, a condition that causes vertigo and seriously interferes with their ability to work, or function properly. With this condition, it usually goes away if treated properly in 2-6 sessions. So, it is not such a big expense to come see me. If they have a big deductible, they will have to pay either way. At least if they come to see me, they know they are being seen by someone who treats this problem 3-4 times a day, as opposed to someone who has little experience, or only treats this problem occasionally. For patients with conditions that take longer to treat, they come to me because they know that their chances of having a good outcome are enhanced if they have the best possible therapist that their money can buy, because again, they still have to pay the large deductible either way. Other patients come to me because I am a specialist in treating inner ear disorders, concussion, falls, dizziness, and facial paralysis, and their “in-network” therapists are not.
Another point to consider is the co-payment. Because I am out of network, I do not collect a co-payment. For those patients whose co-payments are 50 to 75 dollars per visit, the difference between their co-payment and what they have to pay me may be the same, or not much more.
If you are considering going out of network for your out-patient physical therapy services, here are a list a questions that you should ask your insurance company to help you decide if going out of network is right for you or your loved one. One thing to remember is that you, the patient, have the right to receive services from any physical therapist you choose.
TOP 4 QUESTIONS REGARDING OUT-OF-NETWORK PHYSICAL THERAPY BENEFITS
1. Do I have out-of-network physical therapy benefits? If not, what does that mean?
2. Am I eligible to receive direct reimbursement from the insurance company for my physical therapy visits?
3. What percentage of the money I paid at my physical therapy visit will you, the insurance company, reimburse?
4. Do I have an out-of-network deductible to meet first?
A former patient recently came back to see me due to an article he received from the Harvard Health Letter. I thought it was a good article, and wanted to share it with you. Maybe you, or your parent, or loved one, need to think about how using a rolling walker could improve safety and independence. An evaluation by a physical therapist would help in determining if you could benefit from balance therapy, and if using a rolling walker is a good idea. In the case of my patient, he was so happy with the walker because now he is able to walk without assistance of another person, and he can walk for much longer distances than he ever could with his cane alone.
Click here to read the article.
Who can forget the commercial when fall alert buttons first came out,where the individual is lying on the floor and yells out “HELP! HELP! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” I do not want to make light of the situation, because being in such a vulnerable situation is awful. I know, because I once dislocated my kneecap when playing with my dog in the front yard. I didn’t have my cell phone, and I was on the only one home at the time, and I had to lie there for a half hour before some stranger walked by who could get me the help I needed.
Many times when an older person lives alone and has started to have some falls, the kids who lives out of state starts trying to get their mom or dad to get a fall alert button. It is hopefully a back up plan that they will never need to use.
When the emergency call buttons first came out, they worked through your phone. Back in the day, this was what we now call your “land line”. It meant that you had to be within 200-300 feet of the phone in order for it to work. You can still get this kind today, but I don’t recommend them. When one patient of mine from Sarasota, Florida, fell in her yard when gardening, she was too far away from the phone for it to work.
These days, there are fall alert devices that work via GPS. That means you could be anywhere, push the button, and they would find you! One of my “snow bird” patients who went back up to Maine for the summer pushed the button just to see if they would answer, and they did!
Another one of my patients fell when stepping off the curb on the way home from the theatre one night. He is a huge 6-foot tall 250 lb man, with an itsy, bitsy wife, and she was not able to help him up. All she had to do was push the button, and the paramedics knew where to find him. She didn’t have to figure out what address she was at, fiddle in her purse to find her cell phone, or risk hurting herself trying to help him up. She just had to push the button that was hanging around his neck.
So the gist of the message is that even fall alert devices are using GPS technology, and you might as well take advantage of good technology that could really save your life. The best way to compare the different plans is to do a Google search for “GPS Fall Alert Buttons”, and check out what comes up.
Painting: The Fall of Icarus- Marc Chagall, 1975.
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition of the nervous system that causes numbness, tingling, pins and needles sensation, or complaints of pain in the arms and legs. The pattern of the altered sensation starts in the toes or fingertips. If the condition worsens, this feeling gradually climbs up the foot or hand, as if you are putting on a stocking or a glove. In the legs, the condition can go above the ankle, but for most of the patients I have met, it has been less common for it to travel above the knee. This problem can occur when a person has diabetes, or it can occur without any history of diabetes.
Sometimes people have it off and on. Others say that they only notice it at night when they are lying in bed. Others have these altered sensations constantly. Some people say their symptoms are mild, and they basically ignore it, while others have severe symptoms that can be annoying, painful, or debilitating.
If the peripheral neuropathy is severe, it can affect one’s balance. This seems to be the case if a person has peripheral neuropathy, in addition to other problems such as visual or inner ear disorders. The reason for this is that the sensation that we have in our feet sends messages to the brain that tells our brain how we are shifting our weight. Our brain uses this information, in addition to the information it gets from the inner ear balance system and the visual system, to tell our joints and muscles what to do to maintain our balance. Usually our brains can compensate when one of these systems is sending poor information, but it is very tough to balance when two or more of these systems are not sending good information (for example, a person has peripheral neuropathy in addition to an inner ear problem and/or a visual problem).
Medical treatments to decrease the pain and discomfort of peripheral neuropathy need to be discussed with a physician.
Treatments to decrease the imbalance caused by peripheral neuropathy need to be addressed with a physical therapist that specializes in treating complex balance problems. I would recommend a vestibular specialist.
With many of my physical therapy balance patients in Sarasota, Florida, as we work together to evaluate their peripheral neuropathy further, we come to recognize that even though the sensation in the feet is altered, the brain has the ability to re-learn how to use the information even though it is not how it used to be, or “normal”. When the peripheral neuropathy is so severe that the person cannot feel the ground at all, compensations such as walking with trekking poles or a cane can make a big difference, because then the person can learn how to substitute feeling the ground with the cane for the missing sensation in their feet.
If you are having problems like these, there are things that can be done to help.
Painting: The Black Stocking by Felix Vallotton, 1904
Bell Palsy is a condition that causes facial paralysis, and was named after Sir Charles Bell (1774-1842) who described the Facial Nerve and cases of facial paralysis in his writings.
Who: 20-30 people per 100,000 people develop Bell Palsy per year. It can occur at any age, but the median age is around 40 years old.
What: by definition, it is defined as idiopathic, acute unilateral peripheral facial palsy.
Where: It usually occurs on one side of the face. Bell Palsy causes weakness or paralysis in all branches of the nerve. In other words, people show signs of weakness or paralysis in the forehead, midface, and lower face with Bell Palsy.
When: It comes on suddenly, usually within 48 hours and reaches its peak within a week. People with Bell Palsy should show some signs of recovery within 6 months of onset. If a person has complete facial paralysis with no signs of recovery at 6 months, they need further work up, because chances are it is not Bell Palsy, and they may have something serious causing their facial paralysis.
Why: When Bell Palsy was defined, it was defined as idiopathic, meaning “we don’t know what causes it”. However, new research is pointing to the herpes simplex virus type 1 as a major cause of Bell Palsy.
What to do: If you have sudden facial paralysis, you need to find out right away what is causing it so that you get the proper treatment. A physician needs to examine you and determine if it is Bells Palsy, or something more serious such as a stroke or brain tumor.
How is it treated: Initially, patients with Bells Palsy may be prescribed an anti viral medication, and/or a steroid medication to help protect the facial nerve and promote healing. If the facial weakness does not completely recover on its own, the patient may be sent to a speach, ocupational or physical therapist who specializes in treating facial paralysis to retrain the facial muscles how to work again.
Reference: The Facial Nerve by Slattery and Azizzadeh, Chapter 9 on Bells Palsy & Ramsey Hunt Syndrome by Shingo Murakami.
Painting: Green Eye Mask by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, 1915
Facial paralysis occurs when the facial nerve is damaged and unable to send messages to the muscles of the face that create facial expressions. This problem can occur for several different reasons. Some causes include: tumor, trauma, stroke, or genetic disorders.
The most common cause of facial paralysis is due to Bell Palsy. While most of the time, Bell Palsy patients recover fully, research tell us that about 20-30% have lasting weakness or paralysis.
I first started treating people with facial paralysis because I was a vestibular specialist. The vestibular system or inner ear balance system is innervated by cranial nerve 8 (the Vestibular Nerve). The muscles of the face used for facial expression are innervated by cranial nerve 7 (the Facial Nerve). These 2 nerves run side by side on their way to the brain in a tunnel in the bone called the Internal Auditory Canal (IAC). This is a very narrow space, with only enough room for the nerves to travel. If a tumor is growing in this small place, or an infection travels to this area, both nerves can be damaged. We see this with large acoustic neuroma tumors, or with infections such as Ramsey Hunt Syndrome.
When facial paralysis does occur, it can take a lot of time for the nerve to heal. The first signs of movements of the face can be only just a flicker, but as the nerve heals, the movements can become stronger. Working with a physical therapist who has special training in treating facial paralysis can help improve the outcome for patients with this problem. They can teach a person what to expect while they are recovering, how to do stretches to ease pain and tightness in the face, how to retrain the muscles to move in a symmetrical way with the unaffected side of the face, and how to manage a condition called synkinesis (when facial muscles which should not be working when making a certain expression try to “help” anyway).
*Sculpture by Jun Kaneko 2007, Untitled Head in Glazed Ceramic and Steel
This is the title of a radio interview I did on July 1st, 2014 with Heidi Godman on her radio program Health Check on WSRQ Sarasota Talk Radio. She interviewed me, and also my husband Dr. Jack Wazen who is an MD, to discuss answers and treatment advice on balance and dizziness problems. During the podcast, I shared with Heidi how physical therapy can treat these problems, and Dr. Jack Wazen talked about the medical side of diagnosing and treating specific balance or dizziness problems. Conditions we discussed included Meniere’s Disease, BPPV, labyrinthitis, and tumors.
Cilck here to go to the Sarasota Talk Radio WSRQ website, where you can find Heidi Godman’s Health Check program, which was recorded on July 1, 2014. I hope you enjoy listening to the program as much as I enjoyed making it.
We have moved our office to 950 South Tamiami Trail, Suite 101, Sarasota, FL 32439. It is a great space with lots of windows, ample parking in the shade (which is huge if you live in Florida), and on the 1st floor of the building.
The new office is right on US 41 South, across the street from the old Sarasota High School Building. I am really pleased to be opposite such a great Sarasota landmark, because the old school is now the new home for the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA)!
What does this mean for me? Well, I won’t have to go far to see inspiring art. In fact, if you are sitting in my treatment room, you can see a fascinating art installation right on the front lawn of the museum. I thought you might enjoy it as much as I have, so below you can see some of the photos I took with my phone the other day. As you can see by the pictures, this makes giving directions to my clinic very easy…
I have driven by this exhibit hundreds of times, but actually being able to walk in and around the art, and touch the walls of the structure gave me a whole new personal experience to the art work. If you live in Sarasota, I highly recommend you take 5 minutes, and stop and do the same. While you’re at it, stop by my office to say hello!
Sitting old man waiting in hall, by Abraham van Strij
Medicine and technology are amazing. People who are deaf can get cochlear implants to restore their hearing, while others get corneal implants for their eyes. There are hip and knee replacements for arthritic joints, and the list goes on… If you have in inner ear balance problem, you may be wondering, “When will someone make an implant to restore my balance?"
Well, Dr. Jay Rubinstein from the University of Washington is definitely one of the researchers in the know. A few years ago, I met Dr. Rubinstein at a University of Colorado ENT meeting. At that time, he was reporting on his early results from implanting human subjects with his vestibular device. When I saw him again in February 2014, he was kind enough to give me an update.
His first studies were done on rhesus monkeys that had healthy inner ear systems with intact hearing and balance function. In order to start testing the device on human subjects, the device needed approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the study had to pass strict scrutiny by an institutional review board (IRB) to prove that the research was ethical and would not harm the subjects involved. Dr. Rubinstein had to find a population of people who from a hearing and balance point of view had nothing to lose and everything to gain by participating in the study.
The first group of 4 people to be implanted had a condition called Meniere’s Disease. These patients had already lost their hearing and vestibular function (inner ear balance control) due to Meniere’s Disease before they were implanted. He has now been following these initial patients for one to three years. Because the device can be turned on and off, Dr. Rubinstein compared how the device benefits the person’s balance control, and also how the device improves the ability of the person to stabilize their vision and decrease the visual bouncing phenomenon called Oscillopsia. Oscillopsia is kind of like the effect one would get if watching an amateur video that someone took as they were walking down the street. It looks as if the world is bouncing. One goal of the implant is that by restoring inner ear function, the oscillopsia would stop.
So you must be wondering, what did he find? Dr. Rubinstein found that over time, the electrical response from the device declined. Based on these findings, he adapted the vestibular implant to make the responses generated more robust.
Sounds great, right? But not so fast. Because research on human subjects is very, very regulated, Dr. Rubinstein has to go back to the FDA to get the new device approved, and then has to submit a whole new IRB research protocol for approval! Once that hurdle is jumped, the next hurdle is funding. As you can imagine, this type of research is very expensive and takes a lot of money…
So you see, research takes perseverance. Dr. Rubinstein certainly has that! I am very grateful that he took the time to talk with me, and has allowed me to share these things with you! I told him that my patients are always asking me when there will be a cure for their problem, and I tell them – “they’re working on it...” Truly, hope is on the horizon.