Occasionally, if a younger person experiences a serious vehicle accident or sports injury, they may face challenges during their recovery period with their balance, mobility, and other basic functions. In most cases, however, having issues with one’s balance or mobility is an older person’s game. As a person ages, they naturally lose muscle tone. Add this to an aging spine that may be arthritic or have other degenerative issues, and mobility issues can become a problem. Additionally, an older person is more likely to have some type of health issue that contributes to a weaker balance system such as benign paroxysmal position vertigo (BPPV). Luckily, there are many effective ways to improve balance and mobility—including stretching.
Anyone who has difficulty with weakness, stability, and/or is potentially at risk for falling should speak with their doctor about what benefits they can receive from a series of physical therapy sessions.
What Can Physical Therapy Do For Me?
Physical therapists are specially trained to work with all types of issues that play a role in the malfunctioning of the brain/body balance/mobility systems. Whether a patient is having difficulty from a certain type of injury or medical condition, if they have spinal issues, or suffer from weakness due to extensive bed rest or old age, a physical therapist can provide a comprehensive program to address each patient’s individual needs.
Starting with an assessment to determine the challenges each patient faces, a physical therapist can safely determine a patient’s risk for falling. They will then develop a safe, comprehensive program to specifically address the reasons why an individual patient is having difficulty.
Of course, if a patient is at risk for falling, a physical therapist understands that their overall safety is of utmost importance. A PT will ensure their patient has a safe environment in which to work on their progress, eventually making gradual changes to challenge their physical environment in order to make further improvements.
3 Stretching Exercises to Improve Balance and Mobility
After a physical therapist has made their assessment, it is likely they will start with some gentle stretching exercises as part of their patient’s comprehensive program. Muscles play a vital role in communicating the messages to areas of the brain that work to maintain and improve balance and stability. When muscles are inflexible, very tight, and/or weak, a patient will have difficulty making any progress with their physical therapy goals. This is why a PT will incorporate stretching exercises in a therapy session and will likely assign stretching exercises as part of a patient’s “homework.”
Seated Hamstring Stretch — The seated hamstring stretch can be performed on the floor or from a sturdy chair or bench. If a patient has difficulty getting on the floor, they should opt to perform the exercise from a bench or a chair. The exercise is fairly simple. If seated on the floor, simply straighten one leg, place it in front of your body, and wrap a towel around one foot. Using the towel, gently pull to bring the toes up while keeping the heel on the floor. The patient should feel a pull on the back part of their upper thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then switch to the other leg.
The exercise can also be performed from a chair. Simply stretch out one leg and keeping it straight, direct the toes back toward the body. Hold for 30 seconds (using good posture during the stretch), then perform the exercise on the other leg.
Seated Piriformis Stretch — While seated on a chair or sturdy bench, bring one leg up and cross it over the other, pulling the foot toward the body to form a 90° angle. Gradually lean forward, keeping your back straight. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg. This exercise can also be performed on the floor. Simply lie on your back, bend both knees and cross one leg over the other at a 90° angle. Gently bring both legs close to the chest and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg.
Standing Gastrocnemius Stretch — This exercise stretches the back of the calf muscles. Stand about two to three feet away from a wall. Bend one knee toward the wall and straighten the other leg behind you. Rest the palms of your hands against the wall. You should feel a stretch in the calf muscle of your extended leg. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then repeat the exercise with the other leg.
The right stretching exercises can greatly increase one’s flexibility, which in turn can help with mobility and balance issues. If you are having balance or mobility issues and would like to take part in a free balance screening assessment, please contact Cawley Rehab at 570-208-2787.