top of page

Stepping Up: The Role of Force Plates in Physiotherapy.




Today, we're diving into the fascinating world of force plates and how they're shaking up physiotherapy practice. If you're curious about how we measure those seemingly invisible forces at play when you move, jump, or even stand, then keep reading.



What Are Force Plates?


First off, let's get down to basics. A force plate is a measuring instrument that captures the forces exerted on the ground when a person performs various activities. Imagine a sophisticated, high-tech bathroom scale that not only tells you your weight but also how you distribute that weight when you stand, walk, or leap into the air. These plates are loaded with sensors that provide detailed data on the vertical, horizontal, and lateral forces acting on the body.



Why Do They Matter in Physiotherapy?


Physiotherapists are always on the lookout for better ways to assess and treat patients. Force plates offer a treasure trove of data that can help clinicians develop more accurate diagnoses and personalised treatment plans. Let's break down a few key benefits.


1. Accurate Gait Analysis: Walking seems simple, right? But when something's off, it can indicate a myriad of issues from neurological conditions to musculoskeletal problems. Force plates provide a detailed analysis of gait, highlighting asymmetries and inefficiencies that the naked eye might miss. Research shows that force plate analysis can enhance the accuracy of gait assessments, leading to better-targeted therapies [1].


2. Balance and Stability Assessment: Balance isn't just about standing on one leg with your eyes closed (although that’s a fun party trick). It's a complex interplay of sensory input and motor output. Force plates can measure subtle shifts in balance and postural stability, crucial for assessing patients with vestibular disorders, elderly individuals at risk of falling, and athletes recovering from injuries [2].


3. Rehabilitation Progress Tracking: Recovery can be a long road, and it’s essential to track progress objectively. Force plates give therapists quantifiable data to monitor improvements over time. Whether it’s measuring the symmetry of limb loading postsurgery or evaluating the effectiveness of a specific exercise regimen, these plates provide clear benchmarks for progress [3].



Force Plates as an Assessment Tool


Now, let's delve deeper into how force plates can be used as an assessment tool in physiotherapy.


Postural Sway Analysis


One of the primary uses of force plates is analysing postural sway. This is the slight, constant movement of the body even when standing still. By measuring the centre of pressure (COP) and its movement over time, therapists can assess a patient’s balance control. Increased postural sway can indicate issues such as proprioceptive deficits or neurological disorders [4].


Jump Testing


Force plates are excellent for assessing explosive power and muscular performance through jump testing. This involves the patient performing a vertical jump while the force plate measures the peak force, rate of force development, and power output. These metrics help in evaluating lower limb strength and identifying any asymmetries or deficits, which is particularly useful in sports rehab [5].


Force-Time Characteristics


By examining the force-time characteristics during dynamic activities like walking or running, therapists can gain insights into the patient’s neuromuscular control and coordination. For instance, an altered force-time curve during walking can indicate compensatory strategies due to pain or weakness. This information can guide interventions to correct gait abnormalities and improve functional performance.


Dynamic Balance Testing


Dynamic balance tests involve more complex movements, such as stepping or reaching tasks, performed on the force plate. These tests assess how well a patient can maintain stability while performing dynamic activities. The data collected can help identify balance deficits and inform specific balance training exercises to enhance overall stability.


Limb Symmetry Index (LSI)


The Limb Symmetry Index is a critical metric in rehabilitation, especially for athletes recovering from lower limb injuries. By comparing the force outputs of both limbs during various activities, therapists can determine the extent of recovery and readiness to return to sport. A significant asymmetry might indicate that further rehabilitation is needed before resuming high-level activities [6].



Practical Applications in Physio Practice


Case Study: Ankle Injury Rehab


Consider a patient recovering from a severe ankle sprain. Traditional rehab might involve a standard set of exercises and subjective assessments of improvement. With a force plate, however, the therapist can measure the exact force exerted by each leg during various exercises. This allows for a more nuanced approach— adjusting exercises to ensure balanced muscle development and avoiding overloading the injured ankle too soon.


Enhancing Athletic Performance


Athletes always strive to improve their performance, and force plates can play a pivotal role here. By analysing the forces during different phases of a jump, sprint, or lift, therapists can identify weak points and areas for improvement. This data-driven approach helps in designing more effective training programmes that enhance performance while minimising the risk of injury.



Wrapping Up


Force plates are more than just fancy pieces of equipment - they're revolutionising how physiotherapists assess, diagnose, and treat patients. By providing detailed, objective data, these tools help clinicians develop more effective and personalised treatment plans. So, next time you visit your physio, don’t be surprised if they whip out a force plate - it’s just another step towards better health and performance!


Our Barnet, Cockfosters & Enfield Physio's have tons of experience in dealing with all types of pain. Have confidence that our specialist Physiotherapists will closely assess, diagnose & treat you in the correct & evidence-based way for all injuries. You can book an appointment here.



Blog By: Emre Oz (Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist at Crouch Physio).



References


1. Kieves, Nina R. “Objective Gait Analysis: Review and Clinical Applications.” The Veterinary clinics of North America. Small animal practice vol. 52,4 (2022): 857-867. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2022.03.009


2. Chen, Baoliang et al. “Review of the Upright Balance Assessment Based on the Force Plate.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 18,5 2696. 8 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3390/ijerph18052696


3. Robles-Palazón, Francisco Javier, et al. "Force plate methodologies applied to injury profiling and rehabilitation in sport: A scoping review protocol." Plos one 18.10 (2023): e0292487.


4. Walsh, Mark, et al. "Validation of a portable force plate for evaluating postural sway." Perceptual and motor skills 128.1 (2021): 191-199.


5. A Lombard, Wayne, et al. "Reliability of metrics associated with a counter-movement jump performed on a force plate." Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science 21.4 (2017): 235-243.


6. Zumstein, Fränzi, Christoph Centner, and Ramona Ritzmann. "How limb dominance influences limb symmetry in ACL patients: effects on functional performance." BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation 14.1 (2022): 206.

36 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page