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3 Balance Tests for the Active Adult

By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT 

 

Suzanne, 43, is fit and healthy but has trouble holding the standing yoga positions for more than a few seconds. 

Mario, 18, sprained his ankle a year ago while playing soccer and doesn’t feel as steady as he used to on the field.  

Neil, 57, doesn’t feel confident walking down the dock to go fishing anymore. 

Lita, 26, claims to have been a clumsy child and has never had good balance but wants to work on it. 

You don’t have to be elderly to talk about balance. But no one expects you to have the balance ability of a circus performer either (unless that is actually your job). So, where do you stand when it comes to your balance? Normal? Could you use a little work? Ready for center stage? 

Let’s start with a refresher on the balance system, then we’ll try a few tests. 

Your Balance System at Work

In a previous post, Using Science to Improve Your Balance, you learned about the three sensors in the body that detects when you are going off-kilter:

  • Vision
  • Inner ear
  • Touch/position sense

To keep yourself upright, your body relies on several systems including:

  • Attention 
  • Reaction time 
  • Strength 
  • Flexibility  

Limitations in any of these areas could hinder your performance or even your safety. It’s hard to draw conclusions from one test, but these may give you a starting point to decide if you need to work on your balance. For safety, be near the kitchen counter or other stable support while testing.

Single-Leg Stance Test

Stand in bare feet, with your arms crossed and raise either leg slightly without touching the other leg. Hold your balance and measure the time. 

Stop timing if you move out of the test position. This includes uncrossing your arms, touching your foot down, or moving the lifted leg greater than 30 degrees out to the side. 

These are the averages measured in a 2021 study. How do you compare? 

  • Age 18-39: 43.3 seconds 
  • Age 40-49: 40.3 seconds  
  • Age 50-59: 37.0 seconds 
  • Age 60-69: 26.9 seconds 
  • Age 70-79: 15 seconds 
  • Age 80-99: 6.2 seconds 

 

Sharpened Romberg Test – Eyes Open

Stand with one foot in front of the other. Make sure that the heel of the front foot touches the toes of the other. Arms are crossed. Stop timing if you deviate from the test position, such as uncrossing your arms, moving either foot out of position, or moving your body from an upright position. 

Normal for ages 20-79 is 30 seconds.  

Sharpened Romberg Test – Eyes Closed

Repeat the above test by getting into the same position, then closing your eyes. Be careful! This one is tough. For added safety, stand in a corner, facing out, with a chair in front of you. 

Average expected scores: 

  • Ages 20-49: 26.0 seconds 
  • Ages 50-59: 21.3 seconds 
  • Ages 60-69: 20.1 seconds 
  • Ages 70-79: 16.0 seconds 

Want More? How FYZICAL – Forest Grove Can Help 

Our physical therapists have undergone specialized training and have several tools at our disposal to help you with your balance complaints. 

Virtualis VR uses modern technology to assist our physical therapists in assessing and treating balance deficits.  

Solo Step gives you the confidence to push harder in treatment without the risk of injury. 

Our skilled physical therapists can prescribe exercises you can work on at home to improve your balance.

So how did you do on the tests? Not as easy as you thought? Could you use a little work on your balance? Check out my next blog post on exercises to try at home to improve your balance. 

Or contact us at the office. We’ll find a spot for you in the schedule.

 

Beth Jennings, PT, MPT is a freelance writer and a physical therapist. 

 

Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

 

References: 

Springer BA, Marin R, Cyhan T, Roberts H, Gill NW. Normative values for the unipedal stance test with eyes open and closed. Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy. 2007;30(1):8-15. 

EL-KASHLAN, H. K. et al. Evaluation of clinical measures of equilibrium. The Laryngoscope, [s. l.], v. 108, n. 3, p. 311–319, 1998. 

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