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A pet peeve about physical therapy, balance training and seniors

December 16, 2010

This is my first post in quite some time.  to be honest, I’ve been very busy working on my seniors and family care givers website and have not had much time to think about blogging.

But, just this past week in one of my classes at The House of Good Shepherd I had quite a conversation with one of the independent living residents.

The women, let’s call her June, was in class last month and was telling me that the following day she was going for therapy and was going to have to “walk the plank”.  I asked her about this and she informed me that part of her therapy was going to be working on her balance by walking heel to toe on a 6″ wide board, about 8 feet long.

I asked if she was comfortable with this idea and she said “no, I don’t have very good balance and I am afraid of falling over”.  Since she was new to class I asked her if she knew anything about the rolling walk, or the heel first method of stepping.  Again she said no.

We proceeded to practice this simple “Tai Chi” style of taking a balanced, heel to toe rolling step. First as baby steps and worked it into a slightly smaller than normal step. We then did this near a wall where she would finger touch for balance and she tried the heel in front of the other foot toe walk.

To her surprise, she felt comfortable with it. Still needing practice, and lots of it of course, the thanked me and we went our separate ways.

Just yesterday, the first day seeing her since, she told me that she amazed the therapist by having no trouble on the board using the method I showed her.  I asked if the therapist mentioned the walk and she said no, but he was very interested in what she was doing”.

I continued to ask questions on what they were teaching her at physical therapy and she said “they don’t teach me anything” and “I learn more in this class about building my balance and safety then with them by far”.

Now, this is the bottom line of my peeve. I am not a physical therapist. I teach common sense movement based in Tai Chi theory.  I am not a “licensed professional”  from any institute yet I hear these similar type comments from most of my elder students.

The question is, why don’t they teach people how to walk, how to stand, how to build balance and leg strength using simple exercises that are withing their range of capabilities?

I would love some comments on this issue.  Have you experienced this and if so, how do you work on building your capabilities?

  1. Chris permalink

    Interested in this since I have a family member that is going through a tough time with balance and walking.

    This person now has to be holding on to something to walk and refuses to get any type of walker because it means they are getting old.

    I notice their walk is kind of like stomping softly if that makes sense.


  2. The stomping sound makes me think they are walking flat footed and trying to feel as though their whole foot is making contact with the floor in an attempt to find balance.

    They could use a class and perhaps a person outside the family to talk with them about assistive devices and that it about safety and quality of life, not age.


  3. Richard Bernhard permalink

    I have been diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease leading to balance problems, drop foot in both legs. I sure Tai Chi would help tremendously in developing better balance in both my lower legs. I had taken physical therapy several years ago in which they had taught me various exercises such a walking on a treadmill sideways a very slow speed 0.7. Also walking forwards and alternating backwards using a weighted pulley. Walking heel to toe on a semicircular device about 6 foot long. Also, standing still trying to hold my balance on this same device for 5 minutes. Elastic bands on fastened around each foot doing toe lifts. Using a wobble board for repetitive rotating ankle exercises.
    I need to develop better balance in both my legs and weakened ankles. I cannot stand on my heels and lift my toes, which is one reason I have become orthodox dependent on both my legs to keep both my feet from dropping and tripping while walking.


  4. Karen Arn permalink

    First understand that all PTs are not created equal.  I am a PT and agree with you.  Everything I do is "functional" because if the patient doesn’t understand how what I’m teaching them relates to real life then they won’t be motivated and won’t do exercises on their own when I’m not with them.  There are some therapists who use the cookie cutter method of therapy and don’t individualize care. 


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