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Balancing Act

Stevie Beitscher gradually began noticing a decreased sense of balance while walking her dog on uneven surfaces and when walking around her large, hilly yard in Rancho Palos Verdes. These “balance issues” started about four years ago and didn’t go away. The most pronounced symptoms occurred when trying to pick fruit.

“I noticed that sometimes I wasn’t real stable. My yard has lots of hills and slopes and fruit trees, and I noticed when I was trying to pick fruit—standing on a slope, looking up—I felt like I was going to fall over,” Beitscher explains.

This sensation would come and go, but Beitscher said it was starting to get worse, and she knew she needed to seek medical assistance. Luckily, she noticed a flyer advertising a new balance and fall prevention class at Torrance Memorial. She was the first to register two years ago and has enrolled in every additional class, now offered through the new Neuro Balance Center.

The reason? According to Beitscher, a former physical therapist and physician assistant, these balance classes taught her new ways to strengthen her muscles and her vestibular system and increase her confidence so she can continue to do the things she loves, like go on long walks with her golden retriever, Peaches.

“My problem with my vestibular system not fully functioning likely came from aging, and for me, it’s not going to go away. But the classes and exercises I’ve learned help in managing it [balance/stability issues],” she says. “We didn’t learn anything like this when I was a PT or in school! These exercises better prepare you and keep you stronger and more aware of all kinds of things.”

Specifically, the Fall Prevention and Balance Improvement Program helps people who either experience frequent falls or have balance issues that impair their mobility and quality of life. Azmina Haji, director of Rehabilitation Services at Torrance Memorial, said the classes are perfect for anyone who is compromising their life by avoiding certain activities due to fear of instability.

“Some people, including my own dad, can be fearful of getting out to restaurants or leaving home to go to settings that are uneven—like a church picnic or another person’s house or even just gardening. Some people just want to continue things like playing golf but limit their favorite activities for fear that they may fall,” Haji explains.

To help people get out more and improve their quality of life, the neuro balance courses offer exercises to help people improve or better manage balance. For example, Haji says that some exercises might include practicing walking on uneven floors or in tight spaces to build muscle skills and confidence.

One of the classes in the program, the B.E.S.T (Balance, Endurance, Strength, Training) balance class, features exercises created by Yolande Mavity, a former gymnast and physical therapist. She tailors each exercise individually to help all patients increase coordination and balance, strength and flexibility.

“Yolande is great in that she is so positive and really individualizes the class for everybody, because everyone has different symptoms and is at a different level. She is good at breaking down each exercise you get. If it is too easy, she makes it more of a challenge, or if it’s too hard, she’ll change it the other way. Everyone is pushed,” Beitscher says.

Other balance classes in the Neuro Balance Center cover stress reduction, t’ai chi principles, foot and posture exercises, home safety suggestions and tips for multi-tasking—taught by licensed physical and occupational therapists. All the balance classes emphasize how to increase flexibility, balance, endurance and strength, since people also lose these as they age.

“Yolande’s class has taught me that even though it might get hard to bend over and tie your shoes, you just shouldn’t stop doing it and buy slip-ons. No—the more you keep doing, the better you are and the more flexible you are. You strengthen those areas,” Beitscher explains.

In fact, she says she is pushed in each class and continues to find new things to work on, which is why she has taken five classes and will continue to do so. If she were ever in a panicked situation—such as her dog chasing a squirrel while on a walk with her—she says she wants to have fall prevention techniques at the top of her mind. Continuing with neuro balance classes is one way to do that.

“The bottom line is that you really want to prevent a fall, because that can change your direction in life,” says Beitscher.

The classes have become extremely popular, especially since there isn’t anything similar offered anywhere else in the South Bay, according to Haji. Torrance Memorial will begin offering additional balance classes in the Neuro Balance Center this autumn, which will target more active individuals.

“The additional classes will be for those people, perhaps just retired or middle-aged, who want to continue with tennis or golf or biking. They want to continue with their favorite sports but want to avoid injury and feel more confident,” says Haji.

While a class time and date hasn’t been set yet, class information and registration are available at 310-517-4711. Haji says that individual therapy is offered as well, and if there has been a medical element such as a joint replacement or other injury, insurance often pays for it.

Balance Is Not Just For Seniors

Salvador Arias, a 42-year-old competitive soccer player and construction worker from Torrance, found himself a patient of Mavity’s earlier this year. Playing for semi-professional teams such as Lanoria and Sport Alianza, Arias was all too familiar with sports injuries. The midfielder has had multiple ankle sprains and an ACL knee injury last year that landed him in surgery and physical therapy.

But it was his ankle sprain in February that introduced him to the benefits of neuro balance. Three weeks after his ankle injury, Arias was still limping, and his orthopedic sports medicine doctor suggested neuro balance therapy instead of the traditional physical therapy he typically has. So he started a seven-week program with Mavity that, according to Arias, was “life-changing.”

“I wish I had known the things she taught me years ago!” he says, laughing. “Goodness, I could only imagine!”

Arias went on to explain that two of his former teammates from Lanoria, a five-time champion team, went on to play with the LA Galaxy. Arias has also played on the semi-pro leagues McCulloch Stars, Lincoln League, Liga Mexico and Salazar. He thanks Mavity that he is still able to play.

“The one thing I learned with balance training is that it helps you to avoid injuries. I learned so much from Yolande. She’s a former professional gymnast and so good at what she does ... I apply that [the exercises she taught] all the time. Even when I walk,” Arias says.

For instance, the soccer player will often do “raise-ups” throughout the day—going up on his toes, closing his eyes, lifting one leg, bringing it down, then lifting the other. Arias says he also applies Mavity’s exercises at the gym by using the balance ball or balance beam.

When asked to explain the difference between traditional physical therapy and neuro balance, Arias says it has to do with personalization. “With PT, there are usually machines involved. With adding a balance component, it’s really nice because it’s personalized exercises, getting the right muscles back in order and working on your posture. You can implement all of these at home or at the gym too.”

Other exercises that have helped him with his game include walking back and forth, left and right with a large rubber band wrapped around both knees and standing on one leg with his eyes closed or while performing head turns.

“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 3 years old. Thank God I can still play. Yolande got me back in the game,” Arias says. “I would definitely recommend the center to anyone who needs help with sport injuries or wants to avoid them and keep playing!”

In fact, the married father of two had a game the week of our interview, and he is now considering finding a soccer club for his girls, ages 5 and 7, to get started in. Of course, he’d likely want to coach.

Categories: Health Links,Heart Beats

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