The Single Leg Stance Exercise for Better Balance

One Leg Up for Better Balance

Photo of a girl balancing on a log.
Build Better Balance with the Single Leg Stance exercise.. Don Mason/Getty Images

A multitude of injuries and occurrences can affect your balance and leave your feeling unsteady on your feet. An ankle sprain, for example, can leave you with balance deficits due to tears in the fibers that carry balance input to the brain. People who suffer from a stroke also often also have severe balance problems that make walking difficult. We also loose stability as a result of the normal aging process.

You can improve your balance by performing simple balance exercises. The single leg stance is a very effective exercise for improving balance.  The ablility to stand on one leg is important; when walking, you spend about 40% of your time with one foot on the ground as one leg is swinging through the air. 

Improving your balance can help improve sports performance, and it may help you prevent falls that may cause serious injury.

The single leg stance exercise is a simple way to start building better balance.  It is easy to do as part of your home exercise program, and it can be modified to increase the challenge as your balance improves.

Before doing this, or any other exercise program for balance, check in with your doctor to be sure that exercise is safe for you to do.

Testing Your Balance

Before starting balance exercises, your physical therapist may want to test your balance to get a baseline measurement of your balance and to track your progress.

 Balance tests like the functional reach test or the single leg stance test can give you an idea of how well your body's balance systems are working.

To perform the single leg balance test, follow these simple steps:

  1. Stand upright with your feet together.
  2. Lift one foot off the ground, and be sure not to allow your legs to touch (this may give you extra stability).
  1. Watch a clock to see how many seconds you are able to stand on one foot and record this number.
  2. If you are able to stand on one foot for 60 seconds or greater, try the single leg stance test while standing on a soft surface like a pillow.

Be sure you remain safe while performing the test - have a stable object like a chair or kitchen counter nearby so you can grab it in case you start to feel unsteady.

The Single Leg Stance Exercise

To perform the single leg stance balance exercise, follow these simple steps:

  1. Stand behind a chair or next to something stable
  2. Hold onto the chair back with both hands
  3. Slowly lift one leg off the ground
  4. Maintain your balance standing on one leg for 5 seconds
  5. Try to increase the time spent standing on one leg
  6. Return to starting position and repeat 5 times
  7. Perform with opposite leg

This exercise can be modified as balance stability Improves.  By progressively challenging your balance, you can see improvement in balance and stability.  As the single leg stance exercise becomes easier, you may be able to progress to more advanced balance exercises, but check in with your PT before trying anything too challenging.

Balance Exercise Progression

 As your balance improves, you can progress the intensity and challenge of the single leg stance exercise by making these modifications:

  • Hold onto the back of the chair with only one hand.
  • Stand near the chair for safety, but do not hold on.
  • Close your eyes while standing on one foot.
  • Stand on a soft, squishy surface like a pillow of a piece of foam.
  • Lift your leg off the ground one inch higher.
  • Perform the T-Stance Exercise.

To improve your balance with the single leg stance exercise, you must create a situation where your balance is challenged.  You must also be safe while performing the single leg stance exercise, so be sure that you remain safe when working to improve your balance.

The ability to stand on one leg is important to remain safe while walking and moving around.  Adequate single leg balance may be one component of your balance rehab program to keep you safe and prevent falls.  Visit your PT and learn how to safely measure your balance and perform the single leg stance balance exercise to ensure you maximize your functional mobility and stability.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT.

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