DOES ARM STRENGTH AFFECT YOUR BALANCE?

You are at increased fall risk after having shoulder surgery.

Typically when a person has shoulder surgery, they have limited use of the surgical arm, and are stabilized in a sling. A natural instinct of our body is to use our hands to protect ourselves, and reach out to brace a fall. Another reaction we instinctively have, is to spread our ams out when our balance is challenged. Doing this increases our base of support, and reduces the possibility of falling. Restricting the mobility and use of one arm limits those instinctive protective mechanisms, and decreases the strength of our balance system. It is imperative with patients who have had shoulder surgery (Mandl, 2013) to safely assess and strengthen the other components of balance (vision, leg and trunk strength, balance reactions) as well as safety equipment, proper home set up, and education for fall prevention.

Arm strengthening may be an overlooked component of balance training.

As I was researching grip strength and seniors, it occurred to me that arm strengthening may be an overlooked area in balance and fall prevention. Many times when a patient is having difficulty with balance we focus on footwear, assistive devices (walker, cane), fall prevention education, and leg strengthening. Many post op patients don’t even have an occupational therapy evaluation. Frequently, I have found myself focused on so many other areas, that I have forgotten about arm exercises.

Patients can benefit from arm strengthening exercises not only for function, but also to improve safety and balance.

Strengthening upper extremities is important for daily activities. Cooking, cleaning, dressing, and grooming all depend on healthy upper extremities. Exercises can reduce pain, increase mobility, and improve quickness and performance with all of these activities. A good program of arm strengthening can contribute to keeping someone independent.

Having strong arms may also provide protection and help us maintain equilibrium as we perform challenging activities (ironing, carrying laundry, reaching overhead, etc). Shoulder muscles are closely connected with our “core”. If we perform arm/ shoulder exercises in good posture with a tightened core, our strengthened core will also lead to improved balance.

I frequently include chin tucks:

and shoulder blade squeezes:

with most shoulder programs for core strengthening and alignment.

Don’t underestimate the precaution for safety if you have a weakened or injured shoulder/upper extremity, or the importance of strengthening arms and shoulders within a good balance program!

What do you think? I would love to hear what tips or tools you use to improve balance and strengthen shoulders!

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