Balance is a skill that is required for nearly all functional activities that we humans perform. Good balance is required for all activities including basic movements: sitting up in bed, standing upright, walking with long strides, and going up and down stairs without relying heavily on the railing. It is also required by higher-level activities such as walking on a narrow object, walking on uneven surfaces, balancing on one foot, and jogging.
Many people of all ages and abilities can have balance deficits without being aware of them. There is a very simple test to see if you have any balance dysfunction called the One-Legged Stance Test1. Do not perform this test if you already know of a balance issue or are fearful of falling. In that case, you should seek care from a physical therapist to have your balance assessed and possibly treated. In order to perform the One-Legged Stance Test, you will need a stable surface to hold onto like a countertop, sturdy desk, back of a couch, or doorway.
- Start with your hands on the stable surface.
- Shift your weight to one leg and lift the other leg off the ground without letting the two legs or feet touch each other.
- You can either have a friend time you or use a nearby clock. Start timing once you can maintain your weight on one leg without the assistance of your hands.
- You will want to perform this test three times and document your times.
If you can maintain your balance for 20-30 seconds on average, your fall risk is low. That being said, it is helpful to continue to work on your balance throughout your life. This includes working on single leg standing with your eyes closed near a countertop.
If you are only able to balance for 8 seconds or less without needing your hands to steady yourself, you are at a higher risk for falls. It is recommended that you speak to your Weil podiatrist about a possible referral to physical therapy. The Weil physical therapy team is trained to treat balance deficits in a safe environment, resulting in a decreased risk for falls.
During the One-Legged Stance Test, if you were able to balance for 8-20 seconds and you are comfortable working on your own, you may be able to start improving your balance independently. The easiest way to train your balance is to practice the testing position on one leg. Simply set a timer for 30 seconds and try your best to perform single leg balance with each leg. Likely, you will intermittently need your hands to steady yourself on the countertop. You should feel a little wobbly but confident that you are not going to fall down or drastically lose your balance. Do 3 repetitions of 30 seconds while standing on each leg. Ideally, you should practice this training twice per day. It may take a few weeks of consistent practice in order to notice an improvement in your ability to keep your balance on one leg. Try not to become discouraged! Ideally, you should also practice standing on one leg with your eyes closed. You may need some extra hand support for this one. Again, you should feel a little wobbly but safe.
Other activities that can improve your balance include Tai Chi and yoga. There are often guided classes available in gyms and community centers in which you can participate. A socially distant and free alternative option is to use online resources such as YouTube videos or those available from the library. Just remember to start with basic moves and positions, performing only those activities that feel comfortable. As you consistently perform the activities, you can re-assess your balance using the One-Legged Stance Test.
Improving balance is something that everyone should be training. Athletes can work on balance to reduce the risk of injuries like ankle sprains. Relatively inactive populations can balance train to reduce the risk for falls. Please let your Weil podiatrist know if you have any concerns or questions about your balance. We are here to help keep you safe and active.
1. Rehab Measures: Single leg stance or “One-legged stance test”. hUp:// www.rehabmeasures.org/Lists/RehabMeasures/DispForm.aspx?ID=1150. Center for Rehabilitation Outcomes Research Website. Published January 9, 2014. Updated August 28, 2014. Accessed January 6, 2015.