Have a Catch to Build Better Balance

Improving Your Balance May Be as Simple As Having a Catch

Image of a woman holding a medicine ball.
Have a catch with your PT using a medicine ball to build better balance. JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images

Maintaining upright balance while sitting and standing requires the interaction of many different systems in your body.  Your visual system, vestibular system, muscles, and joints all contain specialized nerves that communicate with your brain to help keep your balance.  A problem or dysfunction in one area may cause difficulty with proper sitting, walking, or running.

Difficulty with keeping your balance may compromise your safety and lead to increased falls.

 Increased falls may lead to injury which may cause pain and limit your functional mobility.

If you have noticed a loss of balance or have experienced falls, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help improve your balance.  Your PT can assess your specific condition to put together a rehab plan to improve your balance.

Things your physical therapist may suggest to help you prevent falls and improve your balance may include:

You may work in the PT clinic to improve your balance, and your physical therapist may have you perform a home exercise program for you to work on independently.

Have a Catch to Improve Balance

One simple exercise that you can do to improve your balance is have a catch with someone while using a weighted medicine ball.

 It can be a fun activity that helps to challenge your muscles, joints, and visual system to improve your ability to sit or stand without falling.

Research indicates that playing catch with a weighted medicine ball improves muscular activity in the legs in young and older people, and that this increase in muscle activity carries over to functional tasks.

 That is, after playing catch with a weighted ball, older adults showed improvement in making postural adjustments when subjected to an external perturbation force.  There is a transfer effect from playing catch with a medicine ball to being able to effectively anticipate and adjust to outside forces acting on the body.

What is Going On?

There are two ways in which your body maintains balance: using anticipatory and corrective balance.  Anticipatory balance is used when predictable challenges are coming and you can use your muscles and joints to place your body in the correct position to stay upright.

Corrective balance occurs when something unexpectedly challenges our balance.  If someone accidentally pushes against you in a crowd, your body must correct itself against that force to maintain an upright position.  Your ankle, knee, and hip muscles must be able to make adjustments to maintain balance.

During the weighted ball catch, your muscles must work to anticipate the force of the ball that is flying towards you.

 You must catch the ball without it displacing your body outside of its center of mass.  This requires your leg muscles to anticipate the amount of force necessary to catch the ball and stay upright before you throw the ball back.

After a session of catch with a weighted medicine ball, anticipatory muscle activation can improve to help you maintain upright balance.

Next Steps

If you are experiencing a loss of balance or are falling, visit your doctor to investigate your problem, and make an appointment with a physical therapist who can work with you to devise an exercise program tailored to your specific condition and needs.

Having a catch with a medicine ball should be one component of your rehab program.  Some things to consider with medicine ball catching:

  • Start with a light ball that you can easily manage, and then progress to heavier balls as your balance improves.
  • Start with both feet on level, flat ground.  As your balance improves, consider standing on a piece of foam or a pillow to further challenge your balance.
  • Progress from standing on both feet to performing the medicine ball catch while standing on one foot.

Improving your balance requires that you create situations that challenge your balance, but you must not compromise your safety while working on balance improvements and falls prevention.  Make sure you remain safe while performing the weighted ball catch.  Working with your physical therapist on the weighted ball catch may be one component of your balance improvement program.

Source:  Aruin, A. etal.  "Enhancement of anticipatory postural adjustments in older adults as a result of a single session of ball throwing exercise."  Experimental Brain Research. 233 (2) February 2015. 649-655.

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