Take your shoes and socks off. Stand on a flat surface and try to balance on one leg with the stance knee slightly unlocked. Can you do this ON EACH LEG for ten seconds without losing your balance or having to use your other foot to touch the floor? If you cannot, you need to work on it.
One in three people over the age of sixty-five will fall each year. This is of enormous consequence if you consider orthopedic injuries, rehabilitation, and time lost from work and productive activities. Balance is a key issue that adults will commonly leave out of structured exercise routines. This is a huge mistake.
The muscles of the foot and ankle are especially crucial in maintaining healthy balance. When our balance is perturbed, the muscles surrounding our foot and ankle are the first line of defense in maintaining our upright position. Wearing shoes can cause weakness in the foot muscles: shoes take over the job of the foot muscles by stabilizing the foot like a corset. If deemed appropriate by your doctor, try the following progression of exercise. You should notice an increase in your ability to balance.
1. Practice single leg balance (with shoes off) on a flat surface as described above. Try to get yourself to the point where you feel a good amount of fatigue in the ankle and foot. This may take anywhere from ten seconds to a minute or more. If you cannot maintain balance on one foot, use the other foot to touch the floor and momentarily steadily yourself. The goal is to spend as much time on one foot as possible until fatigue sets in.
2. Once you can balance without problems for thirty seconds, you may try to make the exercise more challenging by trying the same single leg balance exercise on a pillow or couch cushion. Follow the same rules.
3. The ultimate balance challenge will come from standing on a “BOSU” apparatus (above picture). Most gyms will have this piece of equipment: they can also be purchased for around 120 dollars online or at a sporting goods store. We have our patients stand with the balancing leg on the “center of the bulls-eye.”
Below is a video of our simple single leg balancing exercise. Make sure that you are totally free of distractions during these exercises!
Image credit: Product photo from BOSU.