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How to Test Your Balance and Fall Risk

balance assessments

By Devin Wurman, DPT

The goal of Balance Awareness Month is to reduce the time it takes to diagnose a vestibular or inner ear disorder and help people suffering from conditions like vertigo, dizziness and those who have trouble balancing. Medical experts say falls are the number one cause of death and non-fatal injuries in older adults and six out of ten falls occur in the home.

Try these simple tips to help prevent falls in your home:

  • Arrange or remove furniture so there is ample space to walk around in each room.
  • Remove clutter, electric cords and throw rugs that may cause you to trip.
  • Provide adequate lighting in each room, especially at night, in case you need to get up and use the bathroom or go to the kitchen.
  • Make sure items you often use are easy to reach and do not require you to use a step stool or ladder.
  • Install grab bars in the bathroom near the toilet and inside the shower.
  • Use non-slip adhesive strips on the stairs if they’re not carpeted; install handrails that run the full length of the stairs.

Are you at risk for falling in your home or when you are out and about? Below are three ways to assess if you are at risk for a fall.

  1. Single-Leg Stance Test: This is important as it relates to functional activities such as stepping into a bath tub, or going up and down a curb/stairs. Experts say individuals increase their chances of sustaining an injury due to a fall by two times if they are unable to perform a Single-Leg Stance Test for five seconds.
  2. Functional Reach Test: This test assesses how you are able to reach beyond your base of support without losing your balance. This correlates to functional activities like reaching into a refrigerator or kitchen cabinet.
  3. Sit to Stand Test: The ability to stand up from a chair without upper extremity support correlates to a fall risk because it is important to have good leg strength to maintain one’s balance. When the legs are weak, you are at an  increased risk of falling.

How to do each of these tests:

Single-Leg Stance:

Standing by a stable surface, shift weight onto one leg and the other leg into the air.

Time and see how many seconds you can do this without losing your balance. Ideally, you can balance for 5 seconds or longer.


Functional Reach:

  • Stand next to a stable surface with your feet apart.
  • Hold one arm straight out and shoulder height.
  • Bend forward at the waist and reach as if you were trying to reach something in the refrigerator.

How far can you reach comfortably without losing your balance?

If you can reach past 10 inches, that is considered normal.

Sit to Stand:

  • Sit on a chair that has arm rests with your hands on your lap and feet shoulder width apart on the floor. Your feet should be flat on the floor.
  • Try to stand up without using armrests.

If you are unable to do this, use the armrests but only to assist you. Try and use your legs as much as possible.


If you are unable to perform these tests as noted above, you could be at risk for falling. Physical therapy can help you improve your balance so DON’T WAIT! Call our office and schedule an evaluation with our Balance and Vestibular Specialist, Devin Wurman, DPT.

CLICK HERE to schedule your FREE ASSESSMENT with Loudoun Sports Therapy Center. Our expert physical therapists can evaluate your condition and help you get back to normal!