Patients may present to physical therapy to work on their balance. Deficits in balance can be a result of decreased, strength, flexibility, and many other contributing factors. Balance training is prescribed to help improve those specific impairments and functional limitations.
Traditionally balance pads have been utilized by practitioners to help patients improve their overall balance. However, balance pads may be useful to help improve other things that will ultimately help the patient during their respective episode of care.
Balance is typically made up of three main elements:
Proprioception – our ability to determine where we are in space and how we negotiate on varying surfaces
Vestibular – inner ear organs that allow us to maintain equilibrium when placed in different positions
Visual – visual input including light, color, and movement
Balance pads create an uneven surface, in which challenges the patient when perform various activities prescribed by the healthcare professionals. Using this product can certainly help improve strength, endurance, stabilization, and balance. However, there are more potential benefits when using a balance pad in a patient’s exercise prescription.
Patients may develop strategies when they become off balanced. Strategies may include:
Hip Strategy – due to larger displacements of center of mass
Ankle Strategy – due to smaller displacements of center of mass
Stepping Strategy – individual uses upper and/or lower extremities as protective response when other strategies are not present
Balance pads can help patients develop improve these strategies. Learning how to engage various musculature and establishing improved motor control can be helpful to protect individuals from potential injury.
Using balance pads also allow for individuals to use muscles in different ways. Typically, individuals are ‘programmed’ to perform the same type of activities day in and day out. Exercising using balance pads can help the body learn new information to help them learn new motor pathways. This helps to enhance the neuromuscular system, in which allows the body to learn how improve motor control and stabilization.
These new motor pathways keep individuals dynamic and adaptable to moments of disequilibrium. Enhancing the neuromuscular system is an extremely important strategy to minimize risk of injury. To minimize risk of injury, we need to learn how to move, but often, and different.
Article Written By Eric Trauber, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT