A new program at the Fort Riley Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in Kansas allows Soldiers to work on their balance as part of their recovery. (ARCP illustration)
A new program at the Fort Riley Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in Kansas allows Soldiers to work on their balance as part of their recovery. (ARCP illustration) (Photo Credit: Julia Oliveri) VIEW ORIGINAL

ARLINGTON, Va. — In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, work/life balance has become quite the topic of conversation. However, balance also has another meaning that has more to do with the physical and less to do with schedules. Soldiers assigned to the Fort Riley Soldier Recovery Unit, Kansas, attend a special class to improve this sort of balance in a safe environment.

“This class is designed to allow a Soldier to challenge and improve their balance with a variety [of] fun activities, core and lower extremity strengthening exercises, as well as daily functional activities,” said Cody Ioerger, certified physical therapy assistant at the Fort Riley SRU.

It might be hard to picture what one would do during a Balance Better class. Every week, Soldiers practice different exercises like penny pickups and low light obstacle avoidance, said Rebecca Weston, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Riley SRU.

These exercises and activities help them in real life situations. One example that Ioerger shared involved a low hurdle step forward and to the side. The objective is to progress while stepping over obstacles in one’s path that in real life might be small objects. The side step improves one’s ability to safely gait when forward movement isn’t the best course of action or a feasible option at all. It would be beneficial on an icy path or in a crowded parking lot, he explained.

Ioerger said that participants also complete ladder drills in patterns to progress their ability to gait forward and multi-directionally with speed increases and decreases, all without losing balance. Some of them might look familiar, like the Heisman stepping drill. There’s also the Lateral Retro Advance, which consists of stepping forward into the ladder from a perpendicular start and then taking diagonal steps backward while advancing up the ladder. The exercise is repeated from the other end of the ladder, which he said challenges the knee’s lateral/medial stability and core and lower extremities.

The last example Ioerger provided is a static balance on an unstable object. The objective is to challenge one’s standing balance on level surfaces. Over time, they work toward doing the same activity on non-level surfaces. Soldiers can make it more challenging via different stances or by closing their eyes.

Ioerger noted several benefits to attending the class. Performing the activities can improve overall balance and build core and leg muscle strength. It also increases confidence when it comes to standing and moving on level, uneven, unstable and slick surfaces.

For him, the best part is hearing that it’s helping Soldiers.

“I enjoy getting to see Soldiers that continue to come regularly experience improvement, or inform me they are ‘getting around home easier’ and gaining confidence with everyday movement,” Ioerger said.

In this respect, physical balance and work/life balance have something in common. Both can make everyday life better.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.