by Sarah Woodward, PT, DPT Pivot Physical Therapy Point Breeze
We all know the phrase, ‘“If you don’t use it; you lose it.” Our balance is no exception. If we don’t consistently use or challenge our balance, it will diminish. Balance is a key reaction that we need in order to maintain an upright posture throughout various positions in daily living, whether the body is still or in motion.
Balance is essentially defined as maintaining your body’s center of mass in relation to your base of support. Balance functions by receiving input from 3 different systems: 1. the visual system, 2. the vestibular system or inner eye, and 3. the somatosensory system–this is where the joints are in space in relation to each other and the base of support.
It is important to regularly assess balance because, practically speaking, if you lose your balance, it can result in a fall. Additionally, regular balance checks become more important over time because balance naturally declines with age. Keep reading below for three easy tests that anyone can do at home to assess whether their balance needs work.
- The Romberg Test:
Start this test by standing with your back close to a wall or your back to the corner of the room. Next, place your feet together and bring your arms across your chest, placing each hand on the opposite shoulder. Try to hold this position for 30 seconds. It is important to remain stable during the test and limit how much you sway. If you are able to maintain this stance for 30 seconds with your eyes open then repeat the test with your eyes closed. By closing your eyes, you remove your visual system and rely only on your vestibular and somatosensory systems. If you are unable to maintain this position for 30 seconds both with eyes open and eyes closed, your balance may need improvement.
- The Single Leg Test:
Start this test standing next to a sturdy chair or counter top to assist you in case you do lose your balance and need a place to catch yourself. Place your arms folded across your chest (similar to the Romberg Test) and lift one leg off of the floor standing with all of your weight on the opposite leg. You want to aim to hold this for at least 1 minute with minimal sway and good stability. If you can only maintain this for less than 5 seconds, it indicates a high fall risk. Ability to maintain this for any time less than 20 seconds indicates lower extremity weakness. If you are wondering, “Do I really need to be able to balance on one leg?” Always remember: every time you take a step, you have to stand on one leg.
- The Functional Reach Test:
Begin this test standing next to a wall (either shoulder closest to the wall) without touching it. Both feet should be in a normal parallel stance. Raise both arms in front of you to 90 degrees at your shoulders. Have someone either mark the wall or place a tape measure on the wall. The starting point is where your fingertips/fists reach while standing upright. With your arms still extended in front of you and without moving your feet, bend at your hips and reach your arms forward as far as you can without falling or taking a step. Then, have someone mark how far you are able to reach this way. If you are unable to reach more than 6 inches that indicates a high fall risk. Normal reach for men is between 13-16 inches and for women it is 10-14 inches.
After completing the above assessments, you may feel concerned about the state of your balance. However, take comfort in the fact that similarly to how we can train our muscles to become stronger and more flexible, we can also train our balance. And the more you practice, the better!
If you are concerned about your balance or simply would like more information on improving your balance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. If you believe you may need assistance in identifying or correcting a balance issue, PIVOT offers complimentary balance screens with no referral required.