Stroke: Can You Stand On One Leg?

No we are not talking about some tomfoolery following a few sherbets after a Saturday night out; new research suggests that an inability to balance on one leg reflects an increased risk for stroke.

Being unable to balance on one leg for 20 seconds or longer is associated with early, asymptomatic changes to blood vessels in the brain that potentially indicate future stroke risk, study in the journal Stroke has shown.

The researchers asked 1387 apparently healthy volunteers aged 50 and older (average 67) to stand on one leg with their eyes open. Study participants then underwent brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess cerebral small vessel disease, a standard questionnaire to assess mild cognitive impairment, and ultrasonography to measure carotid intima media thickness.

Results showed that the inability to stand on one leg for 20 seconds or longer was linearly associated with cerebral small vessel disease without symptoms. More than a third (34.5%) of people who had more than two lacunar infarction lesions and 16% of those with one lacunar infarction had trouble balancing on one leg. Also, 30% of those with more than two micro-bleeds, and 15.3% of those with one micro-bleed lesion, were unable to balance.

However, it should be noted that the study did not assess participants’ histories of falling or physical fitness issues (e.g. how fast they could walk or any gait abnormalities).


BMJ 2014;349:g7746

Tabara, Y., Okada, Y., Ohara, M., Uetani, E., Kido, T., Ochi, N., et al. (2014) Association of Postural Instability with Asymptomatic Cerebrovascular Damage and Cognitive Decline. Stroke. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.006704.


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