Athletic Balance Training
Balance training can do a lot to help keep us on our feet and active.
With ankle sprains, it is important to restore ankle function as soon as possible after an injury. One important goal is to prevent the ankle from giving way recurrently during weight-bearing activity, such as running, walking, or even standing. This chronic ankle instability, often caused by inadequate healing or rehabilitation after a sprain, can result in increasingly injurious sprains, arthritis, or tendon problems.
Experts in sports medicine and physical therapy say that in addition to the usual range of motion, flexibility, and strengthening exercises, rehabilitation should include exercises aimed at training (or retraining) the body’s sense of its position in space — in particular, its sensation of limb and joint movement. This largely unconscious capacity — the medical term for it is “proprioception” — is what allows us, for example, to walk in the dark without losing our balance or to distinguish the brake from the accelerator without looking at our feet. Aging and injury to muscles and ligaments can take a toll on proprioception.
One form of proprioceptive exercise — balance training — has been shown to prevent ankle re-injury and reduce the risk of ligament problems in athletes. It’s also under study for wider use to improve mobility and prevent falls and injury.
Ways to work balance exercise into everyday life
It may be easier than you think to fit balance training into your daily routine. Try some of the following activities:
Stand on one leg whenever you’re waiting in line at the theater, bank, or grocery store.
Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth: one minute on one leg while brushing the upper teeth, and another minute on the other leg while brushing the lower teeth.
Keep a wobble board (see photo below) in your office; stand on it during a break or whenever you’re on the phone.
Ask someone to toss you a Frisbee or beach ball while you balance on one leg and then on the other.
Practice sitting down and getting up from a chair without using your hands.
Practice walking heel to toe — that is, like a tightrope walker, placing the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step.
Take a tai chi or dance class (or use DVDs at home), or take up social dancing. Although more research is needed, there’s evidence that dance can improve balance and stability. Studies comparing dancers to nondancers suggest that dancers rely more on proprioception than on visual cues.
OTH Therapy offers balance classes or the use of (and training on) balance or wobble boards.