Parallel Bars in Physical Therapy

Gaining Extra Support During Rehabilitation

Parallel bars are commonly used during physical therapy and rehabilitation. They are used as a support tool to provide a safe way to work on skills like gait training and balance.

If you have had an injury or illness that limits your ability to walk, you may work with a physical therapist during your recovery. Your physical therapist will use different methods and modalities to help you as you work on regaining your strength, balance, and mobility.

Physical therapist working with a man in parallel bars
aldomurillo / Getty Images

What Are Parallel Bars?

Parallel bars are used in the physical therapy clinic to offer you and your physical therapist a safe and stable way of working on certain exercises.

In the physical therapy clinic, this is what the equipment consists of:

  • Two long, stable, wooden, or metal bars are placed about 3 feet from each other.
  • The bars are positioned parallel to each other and supported by metal adjustable legs.
  • The bars can be raised or lowered to accommodate people of different heights, and the width between them can be adjusted as well.
  • The base that supports the legs of the parallel bars is typically equipped with a non-skid surface for safety and security.

Conditions Addressed

Just about anyone who is working on gait training (improvement of walking ability) may benefit from using parallel bars.

Specific conditions that may use the support of parallel bars may include:

Any condition that causes difficulty with walking and mobility may require the use of parallel bars during rehab. The bars provide stability and safety while you are regaining strength and mobility.

Gait Training

When you are learning to walk again, your physical therapist may use parallel bars to provide you with extra support.

Examples of situations when parallel bars are used:

  • The bars may also be used while you are learning to use an assistive device, like a cane. If you lose your balance to one side or the other, the parallel bars will be there to keep you upright.
  • If you are in a wheelchair and learning to rise from sitting, your physical therapist may use parallel bars for you to push up with. The adjustable height of the bars allows you to get the right angle of push when rising from sitting.
  • If you have had a lower extremity amputation, the parallel bars can give you extra upper extremity support while you are learning to walk with your new prosthesis. As you recover, you can rely less and less on the parallel bars and more and more on your own strength.

Some physical therapy clinics have body weight-supported gait training devices to help people walk. These harnesses are attached to a stable structure (like the wall or ceiling) and may move along tracks while you are wearing a harness.

These devices are used to take some weight off while you are learning to walk again with full weight bearing. The use of parallel bars with body weight-supported gait devices may be helpful in adding extra security to the rehab session.

Lower Extremity Exercise

Parallel bars can be used in the physical therapy clinic for lower extremity exercises. The bars allow you to hold on, tightly or gently, as you exercise.

Common exercises done in parallel bars may include:

  • Mini squats
  • Standing hip flexion
  • Standing leg raises
  • Heel raises
  • Toe raises

Other Uses

Physical therapists use a variety of devices and exercises to target muscles and overall mobility skills. Parallel bars can be used to help build many physical skills, besides gait training and strengthening the lower extremities.


Since parallel bars are stable, your physical therapist may have you use them during balance exercises.

  • Single-leg standing exercises may be done, and a pillow of foam can be added under your feet for an added challenge.
  • You may perform the tandem stance and walk (heel-to-toe stance) to challenge your balance in the parallel bars.

Upper Extremity

After an upper extremity injury, your physical therapist may have you use parallel bars during your rehab. While standing within the bars, you may perform tricep dips with your feet on the floor. This helps to strengthen your triceps muscles that extend your elbows and may be important for helping you rise from a chair.

Shoulder stretches may also be done in parallel bars. With the bars raised to their maximum height, your physical therapist may have you utilize the bars to stretch your pectoralis (chest) muscles, shoulder muscles, or latissimus (back) muscles.

A Word From Verywell

If you have been injured, ill, or are recovering from surgery, you may need to work with a physical therapist to gain strength and mobility or to learn to walk again. Your physical therapist may use parallel bars during your rehab to provide a safe and secure place for you to work on strength and gait training. By maintaining safety, you can be sure to quickly get back to your maximal level of function.

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By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.