Whether or not we like Punxsutawney Phil, and how to prevent falls.
Post by Liz Sims, PT, DPT - Redpoint Physical Therapy, Plymouth, MA
The South Shore of Massachusetts is a slippery, sloppy mess, with no sign of respite (other than pitchers and catchers reporting!!). While we as New Englanders remain in disagreement as to whether or not Punxsutawney Phil is a jerk, the risk of slipping and falling on ice is no joke.
Let’s talk about the mechanism of falling. Every day, you probably walk down your driveway to your car. One wintry day, as you begin to transfer weight onto your heel, you slip on some ice. When everything is working as it should, the sudden stretch to the muscle on the back of your leg fires a reflexive contraction, allowing you to stop slipping and pull your leg back to your body, avoiding the fall. Or, if you have slipped to far, a similar reflex will tell your body to relax and fall to avoid injuring your muscle.
As we age, the muscles’ sensors responsible to detecting stretch become less sensitive - meaning your leg has to slide much further before it triggers the muscle contraction. In this case, as your muscle is lengthened and less effective, you are more likely to fall - or worse, pull or tear your muscle!
Your ability to balance declines every year after the age of 35, leaving you at a greater risk for falling in even the best of circumstances. Your risk for falling increases further with variables like ice, low lighting, obstacles, and soft or uneven ground. Bummer.
The good news is, you can improve your balance, no matter what age you are!
Physical therapists are trained to assess and treat for balance problems. This is one of my specialties and I am happy to help - but you can make a difference with some techniques on your own.
Try these simple exercises at home, and if you still have concerns, consult your doctor and your local physical therapist so you can improve your balance and prevent further decline.
Low level - keep it safe!
Medium level - choose a dynamic balance task, or switch to a more challenging surface (like a pillow):
Higher level - combine dynamic movements with unstable surfaces:
So, friends... love it or hate it (the groundhog, I mean)?