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Bulking up your Balance: April 5, 2014

The freedom to move is something that eludes people with severe balance issues. Terry Hayes felt helpless when a neurodegenerative disease sapped her strength.

Whenever I would sit in a chair it had to have a back on it - had to have arms - I would sit like this or I would fall over,” says Hayes. “I wasn’t independent anymore at all. I had to rely on somebody to do pretty much everything for me”.

She’s hardly alone. Due to poor bone quality, disease or injury, countless Americans have trouble maneuvering their own bodies. But they may be able to regain some control by simply putting on a weighted vest.

“We do what’s called perturbation testing, where we gently push them in different directions. We determine which directions they’re weaker or where they’ll tend to move,” says Dawn Root, a physical therapist with Lee Memorial Health System. “And then we’ll use small weights that are about quarter-pound or a half-pound in size and we put them on this vest, on their torso, in different positions to essentially counter balance where those weaknesses are.”

A study presented to the National Institutes of Health looked at women with balance issues who were at high risk for falls. It found that wearing a weighted vest significantly improved balance, muscle strength and power.

To see it in action, we looked at Terry without the vest.

And then watched how she moved with it on.

“Now I’m independent, I drive my car, I walk by myself, I walk my dog again which I couldn’t do for two years,” Hayes says.

Specially-trained therapists are now using the vest on hard-to-treat balance patients.

“They may have undergone physical therapy and maybe the therapy had helped them a little bit but didn't really do a whole lot for them, or they have a progressive balance problem,” Root explains.

Weighted vests have also shown good success on people with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, helping restore their sense of stability.