Common Causes of Balance Problems

Most of us have lost our balance for one reason or another—whether it was the first time we tried on a pair of five-inch heels or a sudden stumble as we accidentally stepped off the sidewalk. For some, though, problems with balance are an everyday hassle. In fact, poor balance is one of the most common concerns among older adults, although the problem may affect those of any age.

What is balance?
When you have good balance, you’re able to control your body in the position you want it to be in. That means that you can stay still when you want to—such as when you’re sitting or standing—and you can move without falling or staggering—for example, when you walk, climb stairs, rise from a chair or squat to the floor.

What causes balance problems?
Your whole body works together to keep you on your feet, including your:

  • Muscles
  • Joints
  • Bones
  • Heart
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerves
  • Vision
  • Inner ear

When any of these body parts isn’t functioning as it should, you may notice problems with your balance. Though balance is often thrown off due to an inner ear problem, there are many health conditions that may contribute to loss of balance.

Inner ear 
Because the vestibular system in the inner ear is responsible for telling us where we are in space and what position our head is in, any problems with the inner ear may make us feel dizzy or like we’re falling over. This could be something relatively simple, like an ear infection, or something more serious, like an issue with the nerves or blood vessels that serve the inner ear.

Circulatory system
Stroke and other problems of the circulatory (blood) system may cause dizziness and poor balance, as can low blood pressure.

Brain and nervous system
A concussion or other head injury may cause temporary (and sometimes chronic) problems with balance. Many neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, may also interrupt the way the brain processes information related to balance.

Problems with our vision, the way our brain interprets what we see, or diseases of the eye itself may cause problems with our balance. Have you ever tried to stand on one foot with your eyes closed? Being able to see goes a long way toward helping us know whether we’re standing up straight—or heading toward a fall.

“Easy” fixes
In some cases, issues with balance are due to something that’s easy to fix, like dehydration or fatigue, or even a medication you’re taking. But if you have trouble balancing that lasts for more than a couple of days, or that doesn’t get better with rest and fluids, it’s best to visit your health care provider to figure out the cause.