The main aim of using a balance board or wobble board is to improve proprioception. Proprioception is our sense and awareness of the position of our body parts and is closely linked to balance. Having good proprioception helps to reduce the risk of injury, especially for ankle sprains and other lower limb injuries.
On this page:
- Why is proprioception important?
- Benefits of wobble board exercises
- Wobble board exercises
What is proprioception?
Located within the muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissues of the body, are tiny sensors which relay information about a joint position, pressure and muscle stretch to the brain.
These proprioceptors are specialised sensory receptors on nerve endings within these structures. Once the proprioceptors have sent information to the brain, the brain then reacts, making changes to the body's position, as required. Examples of proprioceptors include muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, and Pacinian corpuscles. If you have ever started to turn your ankle over and it has automatically righted itself then this is the proprioceptors working automatically to prevent further injury.
Following an injury, whether it be acute or an overuse injury, damage to the nerve endings of the associated structure occurs. This results in an impaired transmission of information from the proprioceptors, to the brain, meaning corrections to the body's positioning are either less effective or not made at all. Using the most common example of an ankle sprain, this means the ankle is more likely to be injured again.
Proprioception can be improved through certain exercises. These exercises should begin as soon as possible after an injury. Generally, in lower limb injuries, this is as soon as full weight bearing is possible. This kind of exercise can start very simply, without the need for equipment using single leg balance exercises.
To further challenge this sense, a balance board (wobble board), wobble cushion or rocker board can be used. Balance board exercises are quite simple and can be gradually progressed to make them harder as you improve.
Benefits of balance board exercises
Wobble boards are effective for improving your sense of proprioception, which is strongly linked to balance. Exercises can start at a very easy level which are suitable for everyone, and can easily be progressed to more challenging exercises for even the most advanced athlete.
There are several different types of balance board available. They mainly vary in size and material, although rocker boards and wobble cushions are also available and work in a very similar way.
Wobble boards are most commonly used in the rehabilitation of ankle injuries such as ankle sprains, although they should also be used for other lower leg and knee injuries. They can also be used for upper limb injuries, especially the shoulder. This is important in people involved in throwing or similar activities.
These exercises are best performed in bare feet and on a soft floor such as a carpet (not deep-pile!) or a rug or mat, rather than a hard floor such as wood as the board is liable to slip. If you are new to this, ensure there is a wall or something close by that you can reach for if you loose your balance.
Wobble board exercises (play video)
The following wobble balance board exercises start easy and get progressively harder.
1. Whilst sitting down place the wobble board under the feet and slowly rotate it a number of times in each direction. This is good for improving ankle range of motion and control.
2. Stand on the wobble board, feet shoulder width apart. Hold on to a chair for support if needed and rock the board forwards and backwards, then side to side. Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Stand on the wobble board, feet shoulder width apart. Rotate the wobble board round so that the edge of the board is in contact with the floor at all times. Again try this for 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Balance on the wobble board for as long as you can without the edges touching the floor. Aim for over 2 minutes without touching the floor.
5. Rotate the wobble board in a circle but do not allow the edge of the board to touch the floor. Aim for 2 minutes.
6. Balancing on the board with both feet, perform small knee bends to challenge your balance. Gradually bend your knees further into a squat.
7. Again balancing with both feet, reach both arms out in front of you. Rotate your upper body around slowly from side to side.
8. Balancing with both feet, throw a ball against a wall and catch it on its return. You can also do this with a partner.
9. Do all of the above exercises with your eyes closed! This will make them considerably harder!
10. Stand on the wobble board with one leg. Rock the board from front to back for 1 minute and then side to side for 1 minute.
11. Again stand on the wobble board with one leg only. Rotate the board in a circular motion in one direction for 1 minute then repeat in the other direction.
12. Try to balance on the wobble board with one leg only! How long can you go for?
13. Balancing on one foot, perform small knee bends to challenge your balance.
14. Still on one foot, point your arms out in front of you and rotate the upper body from side to side.
15. Balancing with one foot, throw a ball against a wall and catch it on its return. You can also do this with a partner.
If you can master all of these exercises then your proprioception and balance are good! If not, keep working at it and you should soon see improvements.
The following exercises can be done without the aid of a wobble board:
Medicine ball catch (play video)
The medicine ball catch exercise is designed to challenge the single leg although various progressions can be added to make it more difficult. This develops proprioception after lower limb injuries.
- Start off standing on a single leg.
- Get a partner or therapist to throw a ball towards you so you can catch it.
- Maintain your balance throughout.
- Start with gentle throws directly towards your body.
- As you improve try slightly harder throws or throws slightly off to the side or overhead.
- A further challenge is to do the same exercise whilst balancing on a wobble board.
Heel toe balance (play video)
The heel toe balance exercise, sometimes called a tandem stance is designed to start to work on proprioception and balance. This is a good build-up to wobble board work.
- The athlete stands with the involved foot immediately behind the other foot, with the toes touching the front heel as shown.
- This position should be held for 30 seconds without losing balance.
Stork balance (play video)
The stork balance is a simple single leg balance exercise, although various progressions can be added to make it more difficult. It improves balance and proprioception.
- The athlete begins by standing on the injured leg only for 30 seconds.
- Once this is accomplished the athlete closes their eyes to increase the difficulty.
- The next step is to balance on an unstable surface such as a trampette, wobble cushion or half foam roller.
Heel toe walking (play video)
Heel toe walking is a great exercise for the ankle and calf muscles. It will strengthen all muscles of the lower leg, as well as help improve proprioception or balance.
- Walk slowly across the floor.
- Start with a heel strike and once you get to the forefoot push-off, come up onto the toes.
- Swing the other leg forward and heel strike with the next foot to continue.
- Tibialis Posterior
- Tibialis Anterior
- Peroneus Longus
- Peroneus Brevis