Parallel Bars in Physical Therapy

Gaining Extra Support During Rehabilitation

One piece of equipment that your physical therapist may use in the rehab clinic is a set of parallel bars. Parallel bars are a tool used in many physical therapy clinics to offer people a safe way to work on exercises, gait training, and balance.

If you have had an injury or illness that limits your ability to walk or impacts your functional mobility, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist. Your physical therapist will use different methods and modalities to help you recover.

Physical therapist working with a man in parallel bars
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What Are Parallel Bars?

Parallel bars in the physical therapy clinic are two wooden bars placed about 3 feet from each other. The bars are parallel to each other and supported by metal adjustable legs. These legs allow for the bars to be raised or lowered to accommodate people of different heights.

There is a wooden base that supports the legs of the parallel bars. This wooden platform typically is equipped with a non-skid surface for safety and security.

Parallel bars are used in the physical therapy clinic to offer you, and your physical therapist, a safe and stable place to work on various exercises and gait training techniques.

Conditions Addressed

Just about anyone with a functional limitation that needs some extra help may benefit from using parallel bars. Specific conditions that may need the support of parallel bars may include:

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

Gait Training

When learning to walk again, your physical therapist may use parallel bars to gain extra support. The bars may be used while you are learning to use an assistive device, like a cane or crutches. 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 suffered a lower extremity amputation, you may use 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 the ceiling and may move along tracks while the patient is wearing a harness.

These devices are used to take some weight off of the patient while they 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

Since parallel bars are so 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.

Other Uses

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.

Physical therapists are generally creative people, so if you can dream of an exercise, your physical therapist can probably use the parallel bars to perform it.

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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  1. Mortenson WB, Pysklywec A, Chau L, Prescott M, Townson A. Therapists' experience of training and implementing an exoskeleton in a rehabilitation centre. Disabil Rehabil. 2020;:1-7. doi:10.1080/09638288.2020.1789765