The Functional Reach Test in Physical Therapy

If you are having balance issues or difficulty with functional mobility, your physical therapist is the perfect person to assess your condition. But how does your PT measure your functional balance, and can the test be done at home?

Girl balancing on a log.
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The Functional Reach Test is a special test used as an outcome measure in physical therapy. It is used to assess your balance and functional motion after an injury or illness or when you may have limited mobility.

If you are having difficulty with balance and functional mobility, or if you have fallen, you may benefit from physical therapy to help improve your mobility and safety. Your physical therapist will likely take many different measurements to assess your mobility or balance impairments. He or she may measure your strength, your range of motion, or your need for an assistive device.

There are many different outcome measures that your physical therapist may use to help gauge your current level of mobility and to help keep track of your improvement as you progress through physical therapy. He or she may use balance tests like the Tinetti Scale or the Timed Up and Go Test.

He or she may also use the Functional Reach Test to measure your balance while reaching for various items. The Functional Reach Test is a simple test of balance that can be used to identify people who may be at risk for falling while reaching.

How the Functional Reach Test Is Performed

The Functional Reach Test is a simple test to perform at home. Caution must be used when performing the test. If you are having difficulty with balance or with mobility, you may be putting yourself at risk for falling simply by doing the test. Be sure that you speak with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before starting the test, and make certain that someone is with you who can ensure that you are safe during the test.

To perform the test, stand with your body perpendicular to a wall, so that the side of your body faces the wall. Your shoulder should be about six inches from the wall. Now raise your arm until it's elevated parallel to the floor (stretched outright at 90 degrees from your body). Stand upright, without leaning your torso, and make your outstretched hand into a fist. Now have a friend or family member place a small piece of tape on the wall at the point where your fist reaches without strain when your arm is outstretched.

From this starting position, now move your torso and arm forward to reach directly out in front of you. Your arms should remain parallel to the floor. The aim is to reach forward as far as possible, but be sure to remain balanced and do not move either foot from the starting position. You may want to have a friend nearby to assist you if you lose your balance.

When you have reached forward as far as you can, make a fist. Now have your friend or family member mark the wall with a second piece of tape at the point where your fist is. Be sure to remain safe while performing the test; no need to fall over while reaching.

Once you have marked the wall at the starting position and the ending position, simply measure the distance between the two marks to determine your functional reach. Usually, a practice run is allowed before starting the test, and three tests are done, with the average of the three measurements being the final score.

You can use your score on the Functional Reach Test to measure progress if you are performing balance exercises in physical therapy, and your score may also be used to keep you motivated during physical therapy. As your score improves, you should notice your balance and functional mobility improve as well.

A Word From Verywell

The Functional Reach Test is a simple outcome measure test that you can perform to assess your balance and mobility status. Try it today, and talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist about ways to improve your balance and safe functional mobility.

2 Sources
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  1. De waroquier-leroy L, Bleuse S, Serafi R, et al. The Functional Reach Test: strategies, performance and the influence of age. Ann Phys Rehabil Med. 2014;57(6-7):452-64. doi:

  2. Reiman MP, Manske RC. Functional Testing in Human Performance. Human Kinetics; 2009.

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