New balance equipment helps reduce fall risk

Lily Haight lhaight@ptleader.com
Posted 9/25/18
FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Center is looking to bring stability to Port Townsend. With their new balance technology, called the Solo Step safety rail system, FYZICAL’s doctors and therapists …

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New balance equipment helps reduce fall risk

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FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Center is looking to bring stability to Port Townsend.

With their new balance technology, called the Solo Step safety rail system, FYZICAL’s doctors and therapists believe they can work more effectively with patients to reduce the risk of falling.

The system, which was developed by FYZICAL, includes a safety harness, like the kind that rock climbers use, attached to a sliding trolley that is bolted to the ceiling. The harness can hold up to 500 pounds of weight.

“Training in balance is like training someone with their strength,” said Jason Wilwert, doctor of physical therapy and owner of the FYZICAL therapy and balance centers in Port Townsend and Sequim. “You need to be doing something that pushes you to the edge of your capability. For someone with balance issues, pushing to the edge of their capabilities can be a dangerous proposition.”

FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Center, at 1215 Lawrence St., used to be called Uptown Physical Therapy until owner Rick Perez retired earlier this year. Since then, Wilwert has owned the center, and it has become affiliated with FYZICAL. The new balance equipment was brought to the Port Townsend location just over a month ago.

The balance equipment allows patients to improve their balance and correct their walking, without the fear of falling while doing it. Not only does that confidence in the harness improve the patients’ ability to push themselves, but it also helps the physical therapy doctors to step back and evaluate their patients, without having to worry about catching them if they make a misstep.

“When people don’t feel stable anymore, they start moving very differently,” licensed physical therapist assistant Barbara Arrowsmith said. “What we’ll see is that the first time through, (patients) are real hesitant. But as they get more and more confident, they get more and more adventurous and they start moving better.”

According to Wilwert, one in three people over the age of 65 fall each year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age in Jefferson County is 57 and 26 percent of the population is age 65 or older.

Sometimes a fall can result in devastating injuries, such as hip fractures, that affect patients for the rest of their life. Ninety-five percent of hip fractures are caused by falls, and according to Wilwert, of the people who break their hip, one in five is dead within one year.

Many times, patients will not report their first fall to a doctor, Wilwert said. But after a first fall is when the doctors at FYZICAL want to help patients improve their stability, so that their risk of falling again decreases.

Not only does the balance equipment help those who are recovering from a fall, it also helps those who struggle with dizziness, diseases that affect balance such as Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis, and general gait training.  

“Balance is not a thing you get at birth, that disintegrates as you get older,” Arrowsmith said. “It’s a skill like anything else. It can be made stronger, but you can’t make it stronger unless you push it out to the edge.”

While the staff at FYZICAL in Port Townsend have only had the new balance equipment for a month, they have already seen an improvement in some patients. Meanwhile, at their office in Sequim, they have been getting referrals from other physical therapy doctors who know that the balance equipment can help some patients beyond their own ability.

“It has, in just the short time that we’ve had it, really impacted patients. We have done much higher level things than we could ever do before,” Arrowsmith said, highlighting how much the equipment has improved the confidence of their patients. “It’s nice and gentle, it’s not restrictive, so people don’t fight against it. It’s just there in case.”

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