Snow and ice in the winter season are cause for caution when walking outside. These conditions are a challenge for everyone but for those that struggle with their balance, or have a history of falling, leaving their home in the winter can be a real hazard. Social mobility these days is well below normal for obvious reasons, but people still need to leave their homes for essential work and needs.
Falls can occur at any time of year in a variety of environments, but winter conditions help highlight an important distinction of how falls occur, and what to do to prevent them.
A fall occurs when an individual loses their balance (center of mass going well beyond the base of support), and then is not able to recover and relocate their center of mass within their base of support. Or in the case of slipping on ice, the base of support rapidly leaving the center of mass behind, like so:
Now it may seem obvious to point out that a fall occurs when you can't recover a from a loss of balance, but professionally it has always confused me why many balance programs in physical therapy solely focused on holding a stance on some strange surface (airex pad, balance board, bosu ball, etc).
Rarely are people falling down because they were practicing standing on one leg, or because they were on a surface that moves beneath their feet. If someone is falling because they can't keep their balance while standing on a bus, or train, or a skateboard, then by all means throw them on a wobble board and go to town.
Most people fall (especially seniors) because they slip or trip and can't react fast enough to recover an adequate base of support. Therefore, it is the reaction to the loss of balance that should be the major focus of many balance programs. This is why when I am working with seniors on conquering their fear of falling, and improving their balance reactions we are working on drills such as this:
A rapid perturbation will cause the individual to step and react to recover their balance. This is the skill that should be developed if someone wants to improve their balance reactions and have even a chance of not ending up on the ground after a slip or a trip.
If you or someone you know could benefit from improving their balance, or you have questions related to balance or falling, don't hesitate to reach out to one of our therapists by calling or texting us at 630-447-9746.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe out there this winter.