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Understanding the Difference Between Balance and Stability: Why It Matters in Physical Therapy

When it comes to physical therapy, the terms "balance" and "stability" are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to distinct concepts. Understanding the difference between balance and stability is essential for physical therapists in developing effective rehabilitation programs that meet the specific needs of their patients.

single-leg balance exercise

Balance vs. Stability

Balance is the ability to maintain an upright position and stay aligned with gravity. It involves coordinating the movements of the body's muscles, bones, and sensory systems to maintain equilibrium. Balance is critical in many daily activities such as standing, walking, and running. It is essential for preventing falls, especially in older adults who are at higher risk of losing their balance due to age-related changes in their bodies.

Stability, on the other hand, refers to the ability of the body to maintain control and resist external forces. Stability involves the muscles' ability to contract and control the joints' movements to prevent excessive motion. This ability is essential for maintaining proper alignment and preventing injuries during activities such as sports or heavy lifting. Good stability allows the body to react quickly and efficiently to changes in the environment, such as sudden changes in direction or unexpected obstacles.

How Are Balance and Stability Related?

While balance and stability are distinct concepts, they are related and interdependent. Good balance requires good stability, and good stability requires good balance. When the body is stable, it can control the movements needed to maintain balance. Conversely, when the body is balanced, it is better able to detect and respond to changes in its stability, enabling it to adjust to various environments and activities.

The Role of Balance and Stability in a Treatment Plan

In physical therapy, the distinction between balance and stability is critical in developing an effective rehabilitation program that targets a patient's specific needs. For example, a patient who has suffered an ankle sprain may have lost stability in that joint. In this case, the physical therapist may design exercises that target the muscles and joints involved in ankle stability, such as strengthening the calf muscles and practicing single-leg balance exercises. Alternatively, a patient with Parkinson's disease may have difficulty maintaining balance due to decreased sensory input, which affects their ability to detect changes in the environment. In this case, the physical therapist may focus on exercises that target the sensory system, such as practicing standing on a foam pad or using a wobble board.

The Importance of Balance and Stability Training

After an injury balance and stability training are essential in improving function, reducing the risk of falls, and returning to daily activities. Incorporating exercises that target both balance and stability can help to:

  • Prevent further injury

  • Improve strength and mobility

  • Increase function & quality of life

Exercises to Improve Balance and Stability

Single-Leg Balance Exercise

Single-leg balance is an excellent exercise for improving balance. Here's how to do it:

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

2. Shift your weight onto one foot and lift the other leg off the ground.

3. Hold the position for 10-15 seconds.

4. Repeat on the other side.

As you become more comfortable, try holding the position for longer or closing your eyes to add more challenge.

Squat Stability Exercise

Squats are a great exercise to improve stability and strength after an injury. Here's how to do them:

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointing forward.

2. Slowly bend your knees, keeping your weight in your heels, and lower your body as if you're sitting back in a chair.

3. Hold the position for a few seconds and then slowly return to the starting position.

4. Repeat for 8-10 repetitions.

As you get stronger, try adding weights or increasing the depth of the squat.

Rehab United Seattle Can Help

Balance and stability are essential for individuals recovering from injuries. If you're ready to take the first step in improving your balance, stability, and quality of life, get in touch with us today!


Kelly Vanhove, PT, DPT, FAFS, ATC is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, and Director of the Seattle Rehab United Clinic. With over 14 years of experience in outpatient physical therapy as well as being a Fellow of Applied Functional Science, he possesses valuable knowledge of all functional techniques of assessment, rehabilitation, training and conditioning, performance, and prevention.

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