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How Physical Therapy Can Improve Your Child’s Balance

Understanding How Our Balance Works

Balance is the even distribution of weight that helps you remain upright and steady.

Maintaining good balance depends on:

  • Getting the correct sensory information 
  • The brain correctly using information
  • The right muscles responding

Many different systems in your body work together to create stability. Sensory information for balance comes from your:

  • Visual system, which gives your brain information about your environment. It tells your brain where your body is in its space. 
  • Somatosensory system, which helps you perceive things like touch, pressure, pain, movement and position. These sensors are all over your body, in your muscle, joints and skin. They help your brain with body positioning.
  • Vestibular system, which is in your inner ear. It tells your body how you've positioned your head and how your body is moving (forward, backward, up and down).

Changes in any of these systems can cause balance problems. 

Signs of Balance Issues

Here are some things you might notice if your child is having issues with balance:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of balance 
  • Falling or stumbling
  • Dizziness when changing positions, turning, standing, walking or sitting

If you see any of these symptoms, talk with your child’s physical therapist or care team . Physical therapy can help strengthen muscles, increase flexibility and work on positional changes. These things can improve balance.

Exercises That Can Help in the Office and Beyond

Physical therapists can assess your child’s balance and create the best plan of care. That can include visits to their office for treatment. It might include a set of home exercises, too. 

Here are some of the common exercises a physical therapist might ask you to do with your child at home:

Standing Balance (feet together)

  • Stand with feet together, on an even surface, for 1 minute and no support.
  • Try to reach in all directions without moving your feet for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

For a more challenging activity: 

  • Close your eyes for 30 seconds to 1 minute to challenge your balance. You may need extra support for this exercise to prevent falling or loss of balance. 
  • Perform the standing balance exercise on uneven surfaces such as a pillow or foam. 
Standing Balance

Standing balance feet together

Single-Leg Stance

  • Stand on one foot for 30 seconds or more.
  • Repeat 3 times on each leg. 
  • If you are unable to maintain your balance or feel unsafe, stand near a sturdy surface.
Single-Leg Stance

Single-leg stance

Tandem Stance

  • Stand with 1 foot in front of the other, heel to toe.
  • Hold position for 30 seconds or more. 
  • Repeat 3 times with each foot forward. 
  • If you are unable to maintain your balance or feel unsafe, stand near a sturdy surface.
Tandem Stance

Tandem Stance

Tandem Walking (with head forward and with the head rotating)

  • Walk heel to toe in an alternating pattern for 10-15 feet. 
  • Repeat 3-4 times. 
  • Use a wall or person for support as needed to maintain balance. 

For a more challenging activity: 

  • Walk heel to toe as you rotate your head from side to side, looking to the right and left. 
  • You may need more support for this exercise. 
Tandem Walking

Tandem Walking

Seated Hamstring Stretch

  • Sit with one leg extended and your back straight. 
  • Bend your other leg so that the sole of your foot rests against your mid-thigh.
  • Reach toward your ankle.
  • Keep your knee, neck, and back straight. 
  • Feel the stretch in the back of your thigh. 
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. 
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each leg. 
Seated Hamstring Stretch

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Seated Calf Stretch

  • Sit with one or both legs extended. 
  • Use rolled towel or belt around the bottom of one foot, near toes.
  • Pull foot back toward your body until you feel a stretch in the calf area. 
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. 
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each leg. 
Seated Calf Stretch

Seated Calf Stretch

If any of the above exercises cause your child pain, stop. Then, notify your physical therapist.

Speak with your care team before trying any exercises.

Reviewed: October 2021