Do You Have a High Fall Risk?

There are many reasons why an individual might be having trouble with an impairment or loss of balance. Head and neck trauma from a vehicle or some other type of accident can cause balance problems. Sometimes stroke victims may have difficulty with their balance during their recovery period. It’s also known that the elderly are at a much greater risk for a fall due to stiffening joints, reduced visual abilities, and weak muscles — all of which can impair an individual from being able to easily see and move around objects, and traverse across unfamiliar or unstable terrain. Here are some ways that finding your balance score can help.

Standardized Balance Testing or Balance Score

If a patient is having balance issues, those in the medical community often refer to standard testing methods to help them determine the extent of their patient’s challenges. These tests can also provide clues as to exactly where an individual’s balance issues are coming from, whether their issues stem primarily from issues with the legs and feet, or for example if their balance issues stem from an inner ear problem or vertigo. Even if the individual has not yet fallen, the results of these tests can help medical personnel determine if their patient is at a high level of risk for a fall at some point in the future. By understanding your balance score, a patient’s level of ability (or inability), precautionary steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of a fall at some future date.

Berg Balance Scale

This test consists of 14 separate movements or tasks assigned to the patient, with each movement given a score from 0 – 4. As an example, one task consists of asking the patient (while standing) to retrieve an object from the floor. If the patient is able to easily complete the task, they would likely be given a score of “4”. If they are completely unable to perform the task, they would receive a score of “0” for that particular task. After the patient attempts each of the 14 tasks, their total score is tallied. If a patient receives a score of 45 points or less, they are considered to have a higher than average risk of falling in the future.

Timed Up and Go Test (TUG)

This test evaluates an individual’s ability to move through more challenging movements than the Berg Balance Scale test. For the TUG test, the patient begins the test in a sitting position. They are then asked to stand up, walk 3 meters, turn around, walk back to their chair and sit down. During the test, the patient is allowed to use an assistive device such as a cane or walker if needed. If the patient took 14 seconds or more to successfully complete the task, they are considered to be at a high risk of falling.

Tinetti Balance Assessment

This test evaluates 9 points regarding balance, and 8 other points centering around a person’s gait while walking. Some examples of the assessment include evaluating how easily a patient can sit in a chair and whether they have difficulty maintaining an upright position. Another part of the assessment includes evaluating whether the patient can maintain an upright position while walking, or if they sway from side to side during the test. Each of the areas evaluated has a potential score of “0”, meaning the patient could not complete the task at all, and anywhere from a “1” or “2” if the patient completed the task with some difficulty, or was able to completely and successfully finish the task on their own. The patient’s total points are then tallied and assessed. If their overall point tally is 18 or less, the patient likely has a high risk of falling.

Why Physical Therapy?

Beyond assessing a patient’s balance issues and determining a probable cause, physical therapists can also provide key exercises to help patients improve their balance. In some cases, they may provide patients with strengthening exercises to combat issues with muscle weakness. In other instances, a physical therapist might employ techniques to strengthen other parts of a patient’s overall balance system to help combat an inner ear problem. For the elderly, a physical therapist can provide both exercises and tips for reducing the risk of at-home falls. Some examples include evaluating a patient’s shoes to determine if they provide the proper support, asking caregivers to remove slippery rugs throughout the home, and adding additional lighting as needed.

If you or someone you know is having problems with their balance, we can help find your balance score! Please contact Cawley PT and Rehab at 570-208-2787 or email us at:


Article was written by Dr. Megan Kraft DPT