Now that it is the beginning of fall, we are now starting to experience cooler temperatures. Eventually we will be getting into the winter season where there can be snow and ice on the ground. While falls can occur at any time, slippery ground is a risk factor for falls. More than a third of Canadian seniors aged 65 years or older fall each year and falls are the most common cause of hospitalizations among this age group. Balance impairments are a risk factor for falls and this is something that can be worked on in physiotherapy.
Balance is complex. It is achieved through vision (usually our most dominant sense), the proprioceptors in our muscles, and our inner ear. These all work together to understand that our body is in equilibrium. When it is darker outside, we rely less on our visual sense and need to rely more on the other senses. Strengthening our muscles help us balance and practicing positions that will challenge our bodies can help prepare our body for any perturbations, such as walking on uneven ground or standing on public transit. Below are some exercises that can be done to strengthen the legs, and challenge balance. These balance exercises should be done while holding onto a counter for support until they can be done safely without. Your physiotherapist can guide you in these progressions.
- Bridging – targeting the gluteus muscles and the core muscles. Lying on your back with your knees bent, tighten core and engage glutes and lift hips up. Hold for 5 seconds, then lower down. Repeat 10x, 2 sets, daily.
- Straight leg raise – targeting the hip flexors and quadriceps. Lying on your back with one leg bent and the other straight, tighten your quadriceps and lift leg while keeping it straight. Hold for 5 seconds, then lower down. Repeat 10x, 2 sets, daily.
- Tandem balance – eyes open with counter support. Hold onto a steady surface and bring one foot in front of the other. Keep trunk upright. Hold for 15 seconds then relax, repeat 3x with both legs.
- Single leg balance – eyes open with counter support. Hold onto a steady surface, lift one leg and balance. Keep trunk upright. Hold for 15 seconds then relax, repeat 3x with both legs.
A physiotherapist can help you progress the above exercises and provide you with an individualized program to help improve your strength and balance. Your physiotherapist can also help provide you with strategies to avoid a fall, such as home modifications, and may prescribe a gait aid to ensure you are walking safely. If you are concerned with your balance or have had a previous fall, please book in to see an ALPHA physiotherapist to get an assessment and an individualized treatment program according to your goals! As the winter season approaches, the fall season is a good time to start building your strength and balance before the weather changes!
Seniors’ Falls in Canada. Second Report. 2014. Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/seniors-aines/publications/public/injury-blessure/seniors_falls-chutes_aines/assets/pdf/seniors_falls-chutes_aines-eng.pdf
Al-Alama, T. Falls in the elderly: spectrum and prevention. Can Fam Physician. 2011; 57(7): 771–776