A few months ago I was working outdoors bringing in firewood with family members and took a nasty spill. It was a silly enough thing — there was lots of bramble, and a segment of chain link fence in the way. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking and wound up catching both feet in the fence. I tripped, caught both feet in the fence, and fell flat on my face, scraping my nose on some gravel. I looked like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for almost a week!
I was more embarrassed than hurt, but it got me thinking about information that most people concerned about fractures often do not hear — the fact that fractures can be avoided if you take simple steps to lower your risk of falling.
It’s easy to make simple changes to lower the risk of falling. Here are a few:
Weight training. A person whose muscles are strong has better balance and is better able to recover from a slip or trip, while a person whose muscles are weak is more likely to fall. Best of all, at the same time it’s helping you to improve your balance, it also helps to build bone.
Balance improvement. If balance problems are functional — related to a lack of muscle coordination (common in people who haven’t been accustomed to physical activity) — the practice of t’ai chi improves coordination and balance, and even frail people can perform it. It’s also helpful to assess vision, vitamin D levels, nutrition, and blood sugar, which can all affect muscle control and balance. Medications that cause dizziness also contribute to poor balance.
Adjusting (to) your environment. We have a full article on the web site that talks about ways to reduce falls in the home by modifying your surroundings, but sometimes you have to modify yourself instead! For those of us in the snow-and-ice prone climates, consider using a ski pole for balance when walking on snow or icy surfaces, and make sure you wear sturdy, flat-soled shoes or boots, ideally ones with heavy rubber soles. Keep sand, kitty litter, or ice melt in your house, garage, or car so that you have them if you need them when conditions are icy.
Pay attention! Just minutes before my fall in the wood lot, I’d thought to myself that I was having a “sloppy” day, where my whole body was a little off-kilter. If I’d paid attention to that thought, I probably wouldn’t have wound up face down in the gravel — but sometimes it’s easier said than done! Mindfulness — making a practice of paying close attention to what we’re doing while we’re doing it — is another key to fall prevention.
If we make an effort to develop strength, improve balance, and above all become and stay aware of our environment — what’s around us, how we’re moving, and what’s under foot — we can walk confidently through all the slippery surfaces we encounter and stand tall, in good health.