Balance exercises are incredibly useful for individuals of all ages in all activity levels. Balance training is imperative for athletes to incorporate into their work out regime in order to maximize their performance in every game. Additionally, stability exercises are useful for the older generation of individuals over the age of 60 years old who need to improve balance and reduce the risk of falling and injuring themselves. Furthermore, equilibrium exercises can benefit individuals who struggle with orthopedic or medical conditions that negatively influence their balance such as:
-numbness in the feet from diabetes or peripheral neuropathy
-chronic dizziness or lightheadedness from inner ear issues or medication
-stiffness in the ankles secondary to chronic ankle sprains
-lower extremity weakness of trunk generalized aging or joint arthritis
-one-sided weakness or paralysis from a stroke
All of these medical conditions can diminish balance abilities and lead to a greater risk for falling.
Balance Exercises Help Improve Your Stability Index
One of the key components of balance exercises and balance training is appropriate weight shifting at the feet and ankles. Our body responds to changing balance needs via moving about the feet and ankles, which realigns our body weight over our base of support. Physical Therapists develop exercise programs for their patients that help to restore normal movement and control of the balance reactions at the ankles. Physical Therapists define the stability index as the percentage of the base of support over which the patients can move their center of pressure (COP) during weight shifting without loss of balance. In this example, weight shifting would involve a person being able to lean side to side and forwards and backwards over their feet in a controlled and safe manner. A person’s limits of stability is defined as the maximal distance that an individual can shift his or her weight in any direction without loss of balance. Normal limits of stability describe a theoretical cone extending around a person’s feet, with a maximal displacement angle equal to 6 to 8 degrees to the front, 4 degrees to the back, and 8 degrees laterally to each side.
With orthopedic or medical conditions such as a stroke, knee or hip arthritis or chronic ankle sprains, typically an individual decreases their limit of stability. With a smaller limit of stability the person is unable to control the body’s weight shifting from side to side or forwards and backwards, thereby setting the person up for a greater risk for falling. Additionally, in physical therapy we commonly see older individuals presenting with a limited stability index secondary to natural aging issues of stiffness in the ankles, weakness in the legs and a greater fear of falling. These natural changes that accompany the aging process result in decreased balance abilities and a greater risk and incidence of falling. Consequently, balance exercises are extremely important for individuals with medical conditions or for older adults to practice on a daily basis to help improve their balance abilities, specifically increasing their limit of stability.