Play Ball – Using a Therapy Ball Therapeutically
by Andy Albrecht, DPT, PCS
Kids Place Central Clinic Manager
Of the many pieces of equipment used on a daily basis as a pediatric physical therapist, one of my absolute favorites is the therapy ball. Not only is the ball fun and exciting for kiddos to use, it is an incredibly versatile tool when working during therapy.
Sensory input, or sensory integration, has become quite a buzzword with most families, yet many don’t have the slightest idea what it actually represents. In the simplest terms, sensory input provides us a way to organize our sensory systems to provide awareness of our body through space. When sitting or lying on a therapy ball, a therapist can provide proprioceptive input by drumming or tapping on the ball. The vibration felt on the ball helps the body realize where the feet are in relation to the knees in relation to the hips and so on. Another way to provide sensory input is through bouncing on the ball or laying upside down over the ball. This addresses the vestibular system (the system that helps us orient our head vertical in space) to assist with body awareness and balance.
Asking a child to do sit-ups probably sounds like the worst idea in the entire world. However, it’s amazing how excited they get to be able to sit on the ball and do the same thing. Have your child sit on a therapy ball and provide adequate support at the hips or trunk. You can then have your child lay back to pick a toy from the ground and return to sitting. In addition, you can address core activation by simply sitting on the therapy ball and allowing the ball to move in all directions. In order to keep your body upright, you need to activate various core musculatures.
Gross Motor Skill Development
As a therapist, having a surface that can be manipulated to produce movements is the most valuable aspect of the therapy ball. By moving the ball in specific planes while providing precise handling, it is easy to facilitate repetitions of gross motor skills with greater success. In essence, by having the child situated on the ball, I am increasing the amount of ways I can facilitate specific movements.
If you have questions about specific ways to use the therapy ball to address certain skills, please don’t hesitate to ask your friendly Kids Place physical or occupational therapist.