WEST ORANGE, N.J. — It can happen to anyone at any time.
One minute you’re on your feet, the next you’re on the ground. Falls are the leading cause of all non-fatal injuries and the most common reason for visits to the emergency room.
One in five falls results in a significant injury, such as broken wrists, hips, legs or ankles or head trauma, and falls are also the second leading cause of injury-related deaths behind motor vehicle accidents.
“We often associate falls with children or the elderly, but in fact 50 to 60-year-olds experience more falls than older individuals,” said Dr. Allison Averill, director of neurorehabilitation, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (www.kessler-rehab.com). “And while falling at some point in time is inevitable, there are ways to protect yourself from serious injury by creating a safer environment in and around your home and also by learning how to fall.”
Understanding the science of falling is critical. Studies have shown that it’s not whether you slip on a wet or icy surface, trip over a rug or a crack in the sidewalk, or fall down a flight of stairs, but rather what you do in those brief seconds before you reach the ground:
1. Protect your head. Falls are the No. 1 cause of traumatic brain injury in the U.S., accounting for nearly half of these injuries. To help minimize the risk, try to tuck your head toward your chest if falling backward and turn your head to the side if falling forward.
2. Reach and relax. Although it’s natural to tense up, try to stay loose and reach with your arms bent to help cushion your fall.
3. Butt first. Falls are the second leading cause of spinal cord injuries. To help distribute the impact of a fall, try to land on the fleshier parts of your body and roll with the fall.
Reducing the risk of falling is equally important – and that includes paying attention to both physical and environmental factors:
4. Eliminate clutter. Keep pathways clear by moving furniture or removing throw rugs, toys and other obstacles in the home, as well as tools, hoses and other items outdoors.
5. Focus on safety. Make sure rooms are well lit and use handrails on stairways and grab bars in the bath or shower. Outdoors, pay attention to the pavement or other surfaces and weather conditions. Even at the market or the mall, watch the flooring, displays and other potential hazards.
6. Build your balance. Developing core strength and flexibility through exercise and physical therapy, along with training like tai chi, may help improve balance.
7. Check your eyes – and your meds. Poor eyesight, certain medications and even your diet, as well as the effects of arthritis, MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke and other medical conditions, can affect balance and coordination and lead to falls.
See a physician if you experience any difficulties.
“Falls will happen,” cautions Dr. Averill. “The best defense to help avoid injury is to minimize risk factors in and around your home, workplace and community. And in that split second as you begin to fall, remember how to prepare to land.”
For more information, visit www.kessler-rehab.com.
About Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation: Kessler Institute is one of only seven federally-designated Model Systems in the nation for the treatment and research of both traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. That same level of specialized care distinguishes Kessler’s programs for stroke, neurologic diseases, amputation, orthopedic trauma, cancer and cardiac recovery.