You can have good (or bad) balance while standing still, walking straight, or with more complicated movements. These exercises are meant to work on each type of balance. Furthermore, to maintain balance you use input from the joint receptors in your body, from your eyes and from your inner ear. Any exercise can be made harder by closing your eyes, moving your head from side to side or up and down, or standing on a less stable surface (such as a cushion or pillow). You could even do more than one if you’re really looking for a challenge! If you are unsure of your balance and are worried about falling, always perform these in front of a counter or heavy table so you can catch your balance with your hands if you need to.
- Stand on one leg. Try to maintain your balance for 30 seconds. If you can’t, practice for 2 minutes each day until you can. Make sure you can also do it on the opposite leg. Once you can, you can challenge yourself further by closing your eyes, moving your head, or standing on a less stable surface.
- Walk heel to toe for 5-10 feet without losing your balance. If you can, challenge yourself with your eyes closed and/or with head movements.
- Lay down two six-foot long pieces of tape in the form of an “X.” Stand on one foot in the middle of the “X.” While bending the knee you are standing on, stretch your free leg behind your body to the opposite side and lightly touch your toe to the ground along the “X” and then return to the starting position without losing your balance. Repeat to the other side. Perform multiple times. Again, if this gets easy, experiment with eyes closed, head movements and standing on an unstable surface.
Your sense of position in space and ability to make compensations will improve so you can better avoid rolling your ankle/losing your balance or know when to unweight the leg and fall down (in the case of sports) to avoid serious ankle injury.
By Dan Baram, PTA, CSCS