In this article, we’ll pull on academic research into slacklining and the benefits it can provide in rehabilitation. Exploring what slacklining and rehabilitation are and then understanding how the former can benefit the latter.
Slacklining has been demonstrated to be a useful tool for lower limb rehabilitation. It is demonstrated to produce higher levels of activation in the quadriceps at significantly reduced levels of exertion (Gabel, Osborne & Burkett 2015).
What is slacklining?
Slacklining is a sport that involves balancing, walking or doing tricks on 1-2″ webbing slung between two anchor points. It requires balance and focus in order to progress to longer distances. It can be done low to the ground (30-50cm), to high up across ravines or between buildings (>10m).
Slacklining is a growing sport across the world, having originated in the climbing community in the 1980s, it has significantly grown in popularity with the growth of social media. It began as a pastime for climbers in the Yosemite National Park, USA, as a way to maintain core strength and balance between climbs. The sport has developed massively over the last 40 years and is now a competitive sport in its own right. With multiple disciplines that continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. In order to balance on a slackline you have to engage your core, especially your obliques to keep you stable. The sport has diversified into 6 different disciplines; beginner, trickline, highline, waterline, yogaline and rodeo line. For more details on each of these disciplines check out my article exploring the sport of slacklining further and how you could get involved.
What is rehabilitation?
According to the World Health Organisation rehabilitation is defined as “a set of interventions designed to optimize functioning and reduce disability in individuals with health conditions in interaction with their environment” (World Health Organisation, 2021). It allows people at any point in life to complete everyday activities such as; work, sports, education or taking care of family. It can support improvements in a wide range of difficulties including both physical and mental, and is a key tool within the medical industry to improve people’s quality of life.
It is unique to each individual person and so the aims and the style can be tailored to each situation. Due to the wide array of treatments as well as the requirement being to support each individuals target, this means that rehabilitation can be done almost anywhere. This can be so beneficial in supporting people to maintain independence at home or getting back into the workplace.
Physical rehabilitation supports recovery in a controlled manner, gradually increasing the load on the body to rebuild strength. This can be required following surgery, illness, injury or even due to declining function due to age. Whilst rehabilitation can often be for a specified period of time, it creates the foundations for a long term improvements.
What are the benefits of rehabilitation?
The benefits of rehabilitation can be wide ranging from supporting the slowing of chronic diseases to supporting recovery from acute illness or injuries. Chronic health conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes can all benefit from physiotherapy promoting healthy ageing. This can provide societal benefits from a healthier population, reducing the reliance on the health system. Physiotherapy is often best used to complement other medical or surgical interventions as one element of a holistic health programme. With a population that is ageing globally, physiotherapy is only going to become more in demand as part of a re-active and pro-active health system.
Why could slacklining be used for rehabilitation
Slacklining can support improvement from from four different deficiencies (Physiopedia, n.d.);
- Muscle strength
- Postural control
- Neuromechanical demand
As we’ve mentioned already Slacklining supports muscle strength and specifically helps the quads to activate at lower levels of exertion. This aids lower limb recovery including increasing support provided to the knee joint.
Slacklining naturally improves balance due to the way that the line moves under your feet. This also supports both postural control (special awareness), giving greater understanding of where your body is in space. It also supports neruomechanically improving the translation of thought processes in the brain into physical action.
What could a Slacklining rehabilitation programme look like?
Below is an example of how Slacklining could be used as part of a rehabilitation programme (Gabel & Mendoza 2013).
Slacklining can be used as part of a physiotherapy programme supporting recovery from acute illness or injury or promoting healthy ageing. It can be particularly effective during recovery of a lower limb injury due to the lower levels of exertion at higher levels of activation.
Gabel, C.P., Osborne, J. and Burkett, B. (2015). The influence of ‘Slacklining’ on quadriceps rehabilitation, activation and intensity. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, [online] 18(1), pp.62–66. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2013.11.007
World Health Organization (2021). Rehabilitation. [online] Who.int. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/rehabilitation.
Physiopedia. (n.d.). Slacklining in rehabilitation. [online] Available at: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Slacklining_in_rehabilitation [Accessed 26 Feb. 2023].
Charles P. Gabel, Simon Mendoza, 2013, Slacklining for Lower Extremity Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention, IJATT Volume 18, Issue 4, July