One in three adults over the age of 65 experiences a fall each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Falls are a leading cause of injury and mortality for this age group.
Commonly, falls are caused by arthritis pain in the hips, knees or ankles, which leads to a painful walking pattern and reduced ability to complete daily activities and maintain balance. Don’t let a cycle of pain and inactivity render you immobile.
You can improve your strength, joint mobility and overall flexibility by starting an exercise program that includes strength training and balance activities. This will not only reduce your risk of falling, it will decrease your pain, reduce the disease process and overall disability and improve your quality of life.
3 strategies to get you started
1. Begin a lower body strengthening program. These exercises may include seated “marches,” leg extensions and rising up on your toes and heels without the support of the backrest in order to strengthen core muscles. These exercises should be performed three to four days a week and up to three times a day with minimal to no pain.
Additional work may include joining a pool exercise program or trying alternative exercises such as Pilates, yoga or tai chi.
2. Maintain flexibility. Flexibility will help to reduce fall risk. Some patients with knee or ankle arthritis walk with a bent knee or limited ankle motion, which can lead to shortened calf muscles and less mobility. Try a simple stretch to improve ankle flexibility:
- Sit on your bed with one foot on the floor and the other leg lying straight on the bed beside you.
- Take a towel in both hands and place it around the toes of the foot that is on the bed.
- Gently pull the toes up toward your nose until you feel a stretch in the calf.
- Hold for 15-20 seconds and repeat three times on each leg.
3. Consider walking four to five days a week. You can also try doing low-impact aerobic activity for overall conditioning, balance and lower body strength. If you have fallen, feel at-risk for falling or use a cane or walker, be sure to consult with a physician or physical therapist before you begin walking or doing aerobic activity.
More preventive steps to take
Falls are preventable and there is usually more than one factor that leads to a fall. A few more items to for your fall prevention checklist:
- Take a comprehensive review of your medications with your primary physician as some can cause dizziness and imbalance
- Have your vision checked routinely
- Have your home evaluated for safety by a qualified healthcare provider to ensure that your home environment is safe for you
Remember, make your program fun or get together with friends and family to avoid the workout doldrums. Consider working with a Cleveland Clinic physical therapist who specializes in treating arthritis and balance conditions in order to assess your individual needs and prescribe the best program for you.
Brian Stalter, MPT, is a staff physical therapist in Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation and Sports Therapy. He treats outpatients with a particular emphasis on orthopaedic and balance conditions. Brian has APTA certification in vestibular rehabilitation. To schedule an appointment with Brian or any of our physical therapists, please call 440.312.6242.