As I discussed in a recent column, balance exercises are important for one simple reason: Poor balance can cause falls. Below are two beginner balance exercises. They are a good first step toward improving shaky balance and can be done by people of many ages and abilities, including those who are elderly or frail.
Nerves and Muscles
DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 70 and regularly do cardiovascular and weight-training exercises. Now my doctor wants me to add balance exercises to my routine. Why?
DEAR READER: You've asked a good question, and it has a simple answer: Poor balance can cause falls. Every year, one in three adults 65 or older falls at least once. Especially in older people, falls can be serious. More than 90 percent of hip fractures result from falls. Falls also often lead to fractures of the spine, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm and hand. These injuries can undermine your independence. Hip fractures, in particular, also can increase the risk for early death.
DEAR DOCTOR K: My son jerks his neck constantly. Why does he have this tic? Is it dangerous? What can we do about it?
DEAR READER: Tics are upsetting -- both to the person who has them and to the people who see them. We like to feel in control of our world. A sudden, uncontrollable, rapid repetitive movement (called a motor tic) says we're not in control. Since your neck moves only when you want it to, it's disturbing to see your son doing something you know you could control. You can, but he can't.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a 38-year-old woman. I recently saw my doctor about a sharp pain that comes and goes in the middle of my chest. She assures me my heart is healthy. What could be causing my discomfort?
DEAR READER: The first thing your doctor worries about if you have chest pain is heart disease, which can be life-threatening. Fortunately, other, less serious conditions cause chest pain more often. But the first thing to be ruled out is heart disease, and it's good news that it was.
The cornerstone of treatment for a frozen shoulder is physical therapy, concentrating first on exercises that stretch the joint capsule, and later, on strengthening exercises.
DEAR DOCTOR K: Is there any way to unfreeze a frozen shoulder?
DEAR READER: The term "frozen shoulder" describes a condition in which pain and stiffness cause a loss of the normal range of motion. Fortunately, a frozen shoulder can usually be unfrozen -- if you have the time, patience and willingness to experience a little pain.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have trigeminal neuralgia. Medications haven't helped. What are my other treatment options?
DEAR READER: Trigeminal neuralgia causes pain in the face. The pain can be so bad that it disrupts a person's life. You have two trigeminal nerves, one on each side of your face. These nerves detect touch, pain, temperature and pressure. If you pinch your lip, trigeminal nerve endings in your lips send pain signals up the nerve and into your brain, where the pain registers.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a painful pinched nerve in my foot. What are my treatment options?
DEAR READER: The medical term for a pinched or compressed nerve that causes pain and swelling is a neuroma. Neuromas that occur in the sole of the foot are called Morton's neuromas and are particularly common. They occur in between the third and fourth toes or between the second and third toes.
DEAR DOCTOR K: My grandfather had polio decades ago. He recently went to the doctor and was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome. What is this? And what can he do to regain his strength?
DEAR READER: Post-polio syndrome is the term for a collection of symptoms that occur decades after infection with the polio virus. The main symptom of the condition is new muscle weakness. Polio is caused by infection with the polio virus. The initial symptoms often include muscle weakness, and sometimes complete paralysis, that develops over a few days.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm bothered by numbness and tingling in my little finger and general weakness in my right hand. Could I have carpal tunnel syndrome?
DEAR READER: Based on your description, I'd say you have cubital (not carpal) tunnel syndrome. Another name for this condition is ulnar neuropathy. Cubital tunnel syndrome, like carpal tunnel syndrome, is a "pinched nerve" problem. The affected nerve is the ulnar nerve.