Prevent Falls with These 4 Exercises
How to Prevent Falls
“Have a nice trip, see you next fall” is probably a phrase you never want to hear, especially if you do accidentally take a tumble.
Falls are scary, and they can be disabling in both direct and indirect ways. Directly, they often cause injuries that can make it difficult to move and function normally. And then indirectly, they can create a significant fear of falling in many individuals, which in turn leads to less movement and activity which can then further increase the risk for another fall. Any way you slice it falls can do some serious damage to the lives and independence of older adults.
So, if you or someone close to you is in the “at-risk” population for falling, you may very well be interested in acting to somehow lower the chances. There is a variety of steps one can take to work towards reducing their fall risk, but perhaps the most direct and effective solution is to see a physical therapist for specific guidance.
Physical therapists are experts of human movement that specialize in finding ways to help patients move more effectively and confidently. As such, they are perfectly equipped to identify which older adults are at risk for falls and then guide them through the steps needed to improve their health and modify their lives in ways that will prevent falls from occurring.
The first step of the fall prevention process is determining whether someone is at risk of falling. This is done by an initial screen and typically consists of three questions:
- Have you had two or more falls in the last 12 months?
- Have you fallen recently?
- Do you have any difficulty with walking or balance (the therapist will also examine this briefly to decide for him/herself)?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then the patient is considered to be in the “high risk for falls” category. From here, a much more thorough assessment is needed, which will include a detailed interview about medications the patient is taking, their fall history, and a physical examination to evaluate balance, strength, mobility, and other factors. This assessment allows the physical therapist to more accurately understand the actual risk for a fall and the impairments present in each patient that need to be targeted.
Based on these findings, the therapist will then create a personalized fall-prevention program to begin right away. Every program is therefore unique according to the patient’s specific impairments and abilities, but research has shown that the best prevention strategies include a variety of different exercises, particularly those that aim to improve balance and strength. As patients repeatedly perform these types of exercises, their reaction times will become more automatic, which will consequently reduce their risk of falls. Part of the program will also involve recommendations for regular physical activity in order to boost fitness levels, which is vital to prevent falls effectively.
Lastly, a physical therapist will educate patients and provide specific instructions on how to reduce or eliminate hazards in the home environment and elsewhere.
While the power to prevent falls is ultimately in your hands, seeing a physical therapist will be extremely helpful for guiding you and to identify the safest approach to keep you on your feet.
General physical activity that’s carefully executed is a great start, but to truly lower your fall risk, specific exercises are best. Strength, flexibility, balance, and proprioception (sensing your body’s location relative to other things and controlling its positioning) all tend to decline naturally in older age, so these are the areas that are most crucial to work on.
Exercises to Prevent Falls
Single–leg stance exercise – improves your balance on each leg, which will in turn help with overall balance
- Hold on to the back of a chair with both hands
- Slowly lift one leg off the ground and maintain your balance while standing on one leg for 5 seconds
- Return to the starting position and repeat 5 times; try to increase the time spent standing on one leg
- Perform with the opposite leg
Heel–to–toe walk – helps you better maintain your balance while moving and encountering obstacles
- Position the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of your other foot (your heel and toes should touch or almost touch)
- Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk
- Take a step by putting your heel just in front of the toe of your other foot
- Continue for 20 steps total, then turn around and return
- Repeat five times
Sit–to–stand exercise (basic) – strengthens your leg, core, and back muscles, increases overall mobility and improves balance
- Scoot or walk your hips up to the edge of the chair
- Bring your toes back underneath knees (Optional: use your arms to push off the chair or your knees)
- Lean forward a little to bring your nose over your toes and push up with your legs to a standing position
- To sit, bend a little at the knees to push your hips toward the chair and lower your body to a seated position
- Pause before doing the next repetition
- Aim for 10 repetitions
Heel raise – strengthens the calf and thigh muscles to improve balance
- Stand with the back of a chair in front of you
- Keep your feet 6–8 inches apart, flat on the floor, and parallel to each other
- Bend your knees slightly so that they are not locked out
- Elevate your heels to rise on to the balls of your feet; while in motion, use the back of the chair for balance
- Reverse the motion to the starting position
- Try to complete at least 2 sets with 10–15 repetitions
Making these exercises a regular part of your routine will build your strength and improve your flexibility, balance, and proprioception. This, in turn, will lead to an increase in overall functionality and will help prevent falls. If these exercises aren’t quite enough to help your balance and stability, give one of our expert physical therapists a call today or schedule online. They will have you in the door and on your way to recovery in no time!