It’s that time of year yet again, where fall turns the outdoors into a blustery obstacle course for many of us living in the Midwest. Despite popular belief, it is not only the elderly who are at increased risk for falls in the winter. One study shows that the working-age population was the leading group with emergency department visits for fall-related injuries in the winter months of 2006-2011. We all need to be mindful of the weather and increased risks for falls that come with snow, ice and windy weather. According to the CDC, approximately 1 million Americans are injured annually as the result of falling on ice and snow, with 17,000 of these injuries resulting in fatality. The best way to avoid becoming a statistic is to reduce risky behavior and be proactive. To do just that, here are some Physical Therapist-approved tips for preventing falls this winter.
Mary Lehnen, PT, DPT and Laura Flanigan, MSOT, OTR/L
Why is fall prevention important? Physical and occupational therapists frequently treat patients whose injuries were caused by a fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for adults who are 65 years and older. Falls can lead to serious nonfatal injuries, including fractures of the head and hip. A fall on an outstretched hand, also known as a “FOOSH” injury, can lead to fractures and soft tissue tears of the hand, wrist, forearm and even the shoulder. Falls can be emotionally traumatic to some patients and they may avoid participating in exercise, leisure and necessary daily activities due to fear of falling. This can lead to deconditioning, isolation and negatively impacting an individual’s overall well-being and independence.
Walking down a hallway, up and down stairs, or going for a bike ride are just a few things that require balance.
Balance is comprised of three primary systems: visual, proprioceptive and vestibular systems that collectively work together in order to optimize the ability to balance.1 If one or more of these systems are impaired, the ability to balance becomes increasingly difficulty and can lead to falling.
Balance is simply defined as an individual’s ability to maintain their center of gravity over their base of support. Lean over too far beyond your base of support, and you’ll be falling to the ground. Narrow your base of support too much and it doesn’t take too far to lean before you lose your balance. That’s one reason that so many falls happen in the mid stance phase of the gait cycle when you’re standing on only one foot and have a significantly reduced base of support.
Do you feel off balance? Are you hesitant to go on a walk outside because of uneven surfaces? Do you avoid going to dinner because there may be steps? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to work on improving your balance.
Many people suffer from balance problems, with the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reporting that four in 10 Americans will experience an episode of dizziness significant enough to send them to a doctor sometime in their lives
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