Functional Ankle Stability
May 2, 2o23
Most of us are aware of our loss of balance as we begin to age. We no longer have the ability to keep upright and in line as easily as we once did. Growing up, we could run, jump, ski, or hike and never feel a sense of unsteadiness. Over the years the body changes, and we are suddenly all too aware of the uneven ground beneath our feet. Our joints feel every curve, bump, and slant, creating a sense of hesitancy as we walk and even a fear of falling. What many of us don’t realize is that this can be aided! With skilled care, we can take back control of our bodies as we walk about our homes or communities. It all starts with proprioception. But what is proprioception? And how do we re-train our bodies to maintain balance?
Proprioception, according to Physiopedia, is our sense of joint or limb positioning. This sense essentially tells our brains where our bodies are in space. It allows us to replicate a position our arm or ankle, for example, was just placed in. Proprioceptors have the ability to send this information to the brain and allow us to react appropriately to avoid falling. Natural wear and tear of our joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles causes a deficit in our proprioceptors, making it more challenging to stay on our feet.
With an increase in hesitancy and heightened fear of falling, our anxiety has a tendency to take over. Being overly cautious with our movements can sometimes be detrimental to our recovery. This caution may create a greater reliance on assistive devices, such as walkers or canes, further decreasing our proprioception and balance if used for a prolonged period of time. Luckily for us, the cure may be easier than you think! With persistent practice in balance, we can re-gain the confidence needed to walk independently.
There are many different ways to practice improving balance and proprioception. It could be as simple as standing with your feet together while you brush your teeth at night. Too easy? Try standing on a folded blanket or pillow! If you break down the walking sequence, you will see we spend about half our time on only one foot! Practice this—standing on one foot, first on a solid and flat surface, then on something a little wobblier. Soon you will gain the courage needed to walk without assistance, without a device, and without the fear of falling! 3 easy exercises to begin your proprioception training are as follows:
As suggested, begin with your feet close together or with one in front of the other. When you feel confident and steady, you can progress to just one foot.
While sitting on a ball isn’t actually replicating your standing activities, it is a great way to train the entire body in stability! This will carry over into your daily activities! If sitting still is too easy, place a couple items around you and practice reaching for them while keeping steady!
Standing on an uneven surface is a great way to train the muscles and proprioceptors needed to walk on gravel or grass. To make it harder, you can add leg or arm movements in different directions.
Balance is an issue for many patients that come to see us, young or old, injured or not. It is an aspect of our health that we must be diligent in training if we want to keep upright and avoid falls. If you are struggling with balance and aren’t sure where to begin, call us therapists down on Witte Physical Therapy for an assessment, and we will create a treatment plan to help you reach your goals!