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  • Brent Osborn-Smith

Falling Gracefully the Osteopathic Way

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Falls can be devastatingly damaging.

When walking on a slippery (or icy) surface, shorten your stride and try to ensure that your feet contact the ground closer to your centre of gravity. If you take large steps extending the leading leg out too far, then the back of your heel will strike the ground first. Be aware - there is very little support for the heel in this position and if the surface is slippery, your footing can easily be lost.

One generally falls backwards when slipping in the wet or on ice and this can result in a heavy landing, often on to the spine or back of the head. To prevent such an injury, draw the chin down and slap both arms straight back as you hit the ground, thereby breaking the fall by dissipating the force across the whole surface of the arms instead.

When tripping or falling forwards, turn your head to one side to reduce the risk of hitting your nose or mouth on the ground. Tuck and roll if possible but if not, bend the elbows and try to land on your full length of the forearms and palms a fraction of a second before the rest of the body touches the ground. This will protect your wrists, as halting a fall with just ones hands puts immense pressure through this area and can easily result in fracture.

If falling more to the side, do not reach out with an extended arm as this will invite a break in the collar bone or wrist. Ideally, bring the arms together in front of you and roll along the outside of the calves, thighs, hips, chest and eventually down the full length of the outstretched arms; parachute style! Even if you are unable to pull this off instinctively, do try to avoid landing directly on the hip. When you feel yourself starting to fall, let your body go limp and low. This will help you to curl up and roll naturally into the fall.

Learning to fall from a horse in a way that limits the impact on vulnerable areas is particularly important when hunting or tackling a jump. Some tips are as follows:

  • Bend through the body and bring one arm around, across to the opposite side. Avoid putting both arms out in front of you, as above.

  • Keep the head tucked in, turned slightly off to one side and with the chin down towards the chest.

  • Aim to roll through the impact diagonally across the back of the shoulder rather than falling flat in a cartoon-style splat.

  • Try to absorb the roll so that the impact is taken across the upper back and not on the neck or point of the shoulder itself.

The elderly are most at risk from falls and are particularly vulnerable, as fractures to vintage limbs never repair well and can be extremely dangerous. Long spells in hospital or immobile pending recovery are also very challenging in this age-group. Up to a third of the very elderly do not survive more than twelve weeks after fracturing a hip, for example. Blood clots forming in stationary limbs are often the biggest problem, alongside secondary infections.

Unnecessary accidents may be kept at bay with these few simple everyday reminders:

  • Ensure that electrical cords and wires are securely anchored or re-routed. Lamps can be a common hazard.

  • Have toenails cut, attend to bunions and corns and make sure that you feel comfortable wearing proper shoes.

  • Loose slippers or stilettoes are not always appropriate, particularly in later life.

  • Avoid having loose rugs on the floor.

  • Keep drawers and cupboard doors closed.

  • Make sure that stairs and corridors are well lit, especially at night.

  • Hold a handrail when walking on stairs and have these fitted in any awkward places.

  • Always remove hands from coat pockets when using stairs or escalators (useful for younger readers too!)

  • Have somebody spread salt or sand on paths, if covered with ice or snow.

Trips and falls can be life-changing events. Do feel free to make an appointment if you would like further advice on preventative care as well as treatment for an existing injury.

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