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Slacklining for Injury Recovery

A backyard tight rope is not just for fun, but great for injury prevention and recovery too

The studies are adding up painting slacklining as a legitimate injury recovery and prevention exercise. In 2013 a study from the University of Salzburg found slacklines were ideal for recovery from sprained ankles and knee injuries. While a more recent study found it ideal for rebuilding injured quads.
 
“Standing on a slackline is a much greater challenge compared to other unstable training device,” says Juergen Pfusterschmied, the lead on the Salzburg study. “[It may] be useful for athletes to increase sports performance in general, but also for advanced therapy after ACL ruptures or ankle sprains.” 

A slackline is a strip of strong webbing pulled tight between two objects - usually trees - like a tight rope. Originally developed by climbers and paddlers as a balance training exercise there are now professional slackline athletes. Walking the lines, which tend to sag and sway, is a balance challenge, which is exactly what makes it ideal for rehab, says Pfusterschmied.  

His research team split 24 young adults in a control group or a slackline group. The slackliners spent time each day for four weeks working on the slackline. As they improved they moved on to harder slacklines and performing tasks like catching a ball, jumping and even juggling.  

Pfusterschmied and his team monitored muscle reaction, movement and strength measures on six lower body points. The slackliners showed positive changes in joint stability and lower body reaction time compared to the control group, particularly in the knee joint, but also the ankle and hip. 

"That suggests an injury prevention effect," he said. 

The newer study, published in December 2013 in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, monitored 49 physiotherapy outpatients with acute knee injuries. All were tested on their range of motion and perceived effort in six different leg exercises, including slacklining. They concluded that the unstable and swaying slackline encourages the body to recruit the little muscles that help stabilize joints and muscles.   

The original slacklines were DIY affairs, but today several brands make kits that set up quickly and easily. Two solid trees are all you need. Begin with a short and low to the ground set up over flat grass or sand. Begin by just standing on the line and progress to taking a few steps. Keep your eyes looking down the line and use your arms and hands to help with balance. As you improve try to change directions, jump, catch a ball, etc. The unstable line is good for other exercises too: pushups, one legged squats and more. 

By Ryan Stuart

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