When treating clients to prevent a fall or unfortunately after a fall has caused an injury, physical therapists promote many exercises including balance retraining. I often tell my patients that there is no one way to truly prevent a fall, but there are several key factors to minimize the risk:
- Use your eyes! Your vison aides in balance and while we do not want to walk hunched over and look down at the ground, it is important to know your surroundings. Try to remove items that you may trip over and gaze ahead on your walking path to assess for deviations in the surface or obstacles that may cause you to lose footing and fall.
- Slow down! Falls are accidents and the saying "haste makes waste" applies to multi-tasking like carrying 3 items downstairs while not holding a railing due to being late for an appointment and missing the last step.
- Strong legs -- your quadriceps muscle on the front of thigh and gluteals ( buttock muscles) are prime movers for sit to stand, rising or lowering from low heights ( like toilets), walking and climbing steps. If these muscle groups are weak, it creates more challenge for the legs to efficiently perform those tasks. Once weak, the legs overall fatigue quicker and walking becomes more difficult leading to falls.
- PRACTICE BALANCE. Did you know we lose functional balance as we age? Practice single leg balance with an 18-year old, a 30-something, 40-something and 75-year old. It is astonishing to see the differences, BUT balance can improve with daily training like walking a "pretend tight rope/ balance beam". Simply follow a straight line like a carpet or tile seam in your home. You cannot fall off the line, but it really shows how challenging heel to toe walking can be. Or stand on one leg while standing at the kitchen sink. Your goal, with some regular practice, should be to balance statically on one leg for 30 seconds to one minute through the age span.
- MAKE IT FUN. Many clients tell me they don't like to exercise because it is boring. I have found music and dancing to be great ways to liven up the routine. Dancing is a very effective balance, coordination, strength and endurance activity. I have one client perform the structured PT strength and balance exercises in the clinic under my supervision and her Home Program is to dance for five minutes every day. She now has taught me the "Fox Trot"!
Donna Goodwin, PT has 25 years of experience in physical therapy treating all age groups. She practices at OrthoCarolina Matthews where she encourages an active lifestyle and creative use of exercise with all her clients. She enjoys running, golf, yoga, reading, research on healthy aging practices and learning from her patients.