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The Functional Reach Test in Physical Therapy

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Updated December 31, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you are having difficulty with balance and functional mobility or if you have fallen, you may benefit from physical therapy to help you improve your mobility and safety.

Your physical therapist will likely take many different measurements to assess your mobility or balance impairments. He or she may measure your strength, your range of motion, or your need for an assistive device.

There are many different outcomes measures that your physical therapist may use to help gauge your current level of mobility and to help keep track of your improvement as you progress through physical therapy. He or she may use balance tests like the Tinetti Scale or the Timed Up and Go Test.

He or she may also use the Functional Reach Test to measure your balance while reaching for various items. The Functional Reach Test is a simple test of balance that can be used to identify people who may be at risk for falling while reaching.

How the Functional Reach Test is Performed

The Functional Reach Test is a simple test to perform at home. Caution must be used when performing the test. If you are having difficulty with balance or with mobility, you may be putting yourself at risk for falling simply by doing the test. Be sure that you speak with your doctor or physical therapist before starting the test, and make certain that someone is with you who can ensure that you are safe during the test.

To perform the test, stand with your body perpendicular to a wall. Your shoulder should be about 6 inches from the wall and you should be facing forward. Place a small piece of tape on the wall at the level of your shoulder joint.

From the starting position, reach directly out in front of you as far as possible. Your arms should be parallel to the floor. Be sure to remain balanced, and do not move either foot from the starting position.

When you have reached out in front as far as you can, make a fist. Have a friend or family member mark the wall with a piece of tape at the point where your fist is.

Once you have marked the wall at the starting position and the ending position, simply measure the distance between the two marks to determine your functional reach. Usually, a practice run is allowed before starting the test, and three tests are done, with the average of the three measurements being the final score.

You can use your score on the Functional Reach Test to measure progress if you are performing balance exercises in physical therapy, and your score may also be used to keep you motivated during physical therapy. As your score improves, you should notice your balance and functional mobility improve as well.

The Functional Reach Test is a simple outcomes measure test that you can perform to assess your balance and mobility status. Try it today, and talk to your doctor or physical therapist about ways to improve your balance and safe functional mobility.

Source: Physical Therapist's Clinical Companion. (2000). Springhouse, PA. Springhouse.

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