Good balance (the ability to remain upright and steady with an even distribution of weight) and proprioception (the ability to sense where the body and its parts are located in space) are important to prevent injury in both the elderly and the young adult population! Often times when we think of a loss in balance we think about the older adult population. While a loss of balance is one of the key reasons for falls in the older adult population, the younger adult population is not exempt. A lack of balance and proprioception in any age can further balance problems and lead to other injuries later on.
Good balance and proprioception depend on numerous factors. The body’s vestibular, visual and musculoskeletal systems work together to maintain balance. The vestibular system uses a complex mechanism in the inner ear to help the brain sense position and movement (i.e. up and down, side to side, and circular movements). The visual system uses our sight to tell us where we are in relation to our surroundings. The musculoskeletal system provides the ability to stand, move and sense positions and movements through our muscles and joints.
The following exercises challenge the vestibular, visual and musculoskeletal systems. The key to doing the exercise correctly is to try to look good!
Single Leg Stance with Eyes Open: Starting with your foot, your weight should be centered under the first toe, fifth toe and heel while keeping your arch up. Your foot, knee and hip should be vertical and in line with each other. Your pelvis should be level- no dropping at your hip. Your shoulders should be aligned with your pelvis and not shifted one way or the other. Lastly, your head should be centered between your shoulders.
- Hold this position for 30-45 seconds.
- Repeat 3-5 times on each leg.
- If you cannot maintain this position in proper form, then hold up your leg using the least amount of help from a couple fingers to your hand.
Single Leg Stance with Eyes Closed: same as above but close your eyes
Single Leg Stance with Head Movement: Maintaining the good single leg standing position try turning your head left and right, up and down.
- If this is easy then try with your eyes closed.
Single Leg Stance with Leg Reach: Maintain the good single leg standing position and reach with your opposite leg. Imagine you are standing in the middle of a clock. While standing on your left leg reach as far as you can with your right leg as if you were reaching to different numbers of the clock. Then switch legs.
- If this is easy for you then add a squat to your leg reach.
- Other variations: eyes closed, pretend to kick a ball or kick a ball
Single Leg Stance with Arm Reach: Maintain the good single leg standing position the reach forward with your arm. Reach as far forward as you can without losing your balance. Return to the upright position.
- If this is easy for you then reach in different directions as if you were standing in the middle of the clock.
- Other variations: reach down towards the ground, add a squat with your reach, toss a ball against a wall, use a weight in your hand
*To make any of these exercises more difficult, try doing them without your shoes on or while standing on a pillow.
Whether you are a younger adult or older adult, walk for exercise or are an avid athlete, a caretaker, homemaker or fast paced business person, balance is an essential part of our everyday function. Give these exercises a try. You might be surprised at your balance!
Take care of your body and be healthy!
Stephanie S. Saito, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist at HealthCare Partners Physical Therapy in Torrance with a specialty in Orthopedics. A part-time instructor at Mount Saint Mary’s College in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, she holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA and a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from USC.