• Dr. Piotr Solowiej PT, DPT

Falling is a Skill

Going off of yesterday's theme - what do you do if you find yourself in a situation where you can't avoid a fall? There are certain activities that increase the risk of falling, or even make it a certainty. Additionally, accidents can happen at any time. You don't have to be elderly to trip and fall.

On a regular basis, I interact with two groups of fallers: the elderly and rock climbers. In this post I want to talk about strategies for improving falling technique, as a game plan for when prevention fails, in order to minimize the extent of the damage.

By the Numbers

My preferred form of exercise is rock climbing. Bouldering to be specific. Bouldering involves rigorous and often contorted body positions as you attempt to ascend an inclined wall. I fall, very often, from heights between 0.5m and 5m. I would estimate anywhere between 50-100 times a week. Now while indoor bouldering areas have nice, big, cushy, gymnastics mats in the fall zones, it still behooves me to be good at falling from a height of 15 feet. And with variable body orientations, with respect to the ground, no less.

If you're a climber, you're going to fall. It's embedded in the sport. Between 1990-2007, U.S. emergency rooms treated over 40,000 people due to climbing related injuries. What was the percentage of fall related injuries? 77.5%. Nothing would drive me more crazy, than being sidelined from climbing, for (technically) a non-climbing related injury. If you're a climber, it's in your best interests to have a falling strategy.

Before we get to that, let's also take a quick look at my other group as well - the elderly. From 2006-2013, there were over 300,000 fall related ambulance uses by older adults in Australia. Fracture is a common fall related injury in this population. The most common sites are the distal radius (near the wrist), proximal humerus (shoulder), and proximal femur (hip). The mechanism for these breaks is falling on an outstretched hand or blunt trauma due to freezing, and not reacting. These are perfect example of how not to fall.

A Question of When, Not If

No matter what is done to prevent them, falls happen. And if you haven't been there before, your first fall will not be a picture of elegance. Nor will any subsequent falls if you don't have a strategy in place.

The combination of surprise and fear experienced during a fall doesn't leave much time to think. The response needs to be automatic. The natural automatic response, is panic. As we saw in the elderly example, a common instinct it to outstretch the hand to break the fall (at any age, not exclusive to the elderly). The only thing that's going to break is your wrist. Which at times is a better alternative than your face. Silver linings, I guess.

However, there are efficient ways to fall. And they can be learned. But they need to be practiced to become automatic. Let me introduce you to two pro instructors, that are in the business of minimizing fall related injury.

Bailing Gracefully

The first is a 95-year old man. Elliott Royce.

Bend. Twist. Roll.

Simple but effective. It takes the extremities out of the equation, and transfers the force to areas that are better suited at handling it. These simple steps can be the difference between being bruised, and being hospitalized.

For those of you looking for some more technical advice, let me introduce you to a parkour instructor, Amos Rendao. FAIR WARNING - the following video (and related falling series videos) is a bit....quirky. They can be NSFW at moments as well. However, they are filled with gold in terms of falling technique. Watch at your own discretion.

Both of these individuals practice what they preach. Skin in the game is a great sign that what they are teaching is valuable and useful. I have personally used advice and techniques from both of them to improve my falling technique.


If this sounds like something you would like to start doing, but you're not sure where to get started - then don't. Not without professional help. Get guidance. Face to face coaching. Spend the money if you have to. It's better than spending it at the ER. Also, feel free to reach out to me personally. I'll be happy to help in any way I can.

-Dr. Piotr

Address: 1942 Raymond Dr, Northbrook, IL

Phone: 630-447-9746

Fax: 630-385-0124

Team Sapiens Physical Therapy
  • Team Sapiens Physical Therapy FB
  • Team Sapiens PT Youtube
  • Team Sapiens PT Instagram