Balance Issues Can Show Itself in Many Ways
Depending on factors like size and location of your Acoustic Neuroma, coupled with your age and general health, your balance will be affected somewhat. I have been affected slightly (and my AN was 4.3cm at its largest diameter). That is not the case for all. I have seen some survivor’s dead lift several hundred pounds and I have heard stories of others needing a cane or walker indefinitely.
The problem is that the tumor growths on the vestibulocochlear nerve (8th Cranial Nerve), the nerve responsible for hearing and balance. In order to treat the tumor, either through surgical removal or radiation, it will be disturbed. Even before treatment you may start to experience symptoms of the tumor such as dizziness, poor gate, vertigo and nausea by the tumor innervating adjacent structures and even the nerve itself.
After treatment they may get worse temporarily or permanently. If it is permanently we like to optimistically call it our “new normal”. However, I strongly believe that some form of balance therapy, either before or after treatment, can mitigate any balance issues you have whether you are a watch and wait, radiation (stereo-static or GK) or a surgical candidate.
Ways you can Improve Balance
You can engage in one or many of these options. I myself did Physiotherapy and Tai Chi at one time but now just regularly working out is all I need. I find that a strong core really helps. Knowing your limits also helps too. For example, I am extra careful in the dark and I try not to turn around too fast :).
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy or VRT is a specialized physical program that is designed for the individual to reduce balance issues like gaze instability, dizziness, vertigo, imbalance and falls. Its main goal is to get the vestibular system that is functioning in your body (the other side of your head) to properly compensate for the AN side. This compensation naturally occurs over time but this type of program helps you along and believe me, you may want to continue doing these exercises from time to time. I find that when either I am under the weather, stressed or tired my balance gets a little worse. Keeping your strength up in times like these, really helps.
Oddly enough, while I have not been on a specific VRT program, I have had a lot of the same exercises added to my routine when I was in physiotherapy. Apart from your typical cardio and weightlifting type exercises you normally do in therapy, I did Gaze Stabilization and Habituation Exercises . It helped the most after my first surgery but I still went back after my second surgery. My cerebellum had already made a lot of adjustments so it was quicker the second time.
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art which is characterized by graceful flowing movements and postures. The benefits of regularly doing Tai Chi are enormous especially if you have balance issues. It strengthens your body (your ankles and stance for example) to help you distribute movement more evenly across your hips, knee and ankle. Your walking will improve because of this. It also helps “postural sway”. If you have stood in line for anything, you know what this is. If you have severe balance issues, this would be quite helpful.
Apart from the benefits in balance it has so many others as well. From lowering your blood pressure, boosting immune system function and adding to your general health are just a few examples.
Once you consider yourself out of the woods with the more extensive therapies for balance, you may want to just lightly exercise in general as a maintenance program. Do whatever feels comfortable for you. I do light cardio and weightlifting 3-5 times a week. I am very active outside with work around my country house and I have two boys and I want to be active with them. Even if it is just a walk around the block, keep moving! The worst thing you can do with balance issues is live a sedentary lifestyle. So if you are able to find some way to get the activity you need to help improve your balance, I would strongly recommend it .
You might not be able to fulfill that dream of becoming a high-wire walker but at least you will still have an active lifestyle your way!