As we age, most of us know that our physical strength decreases. Do you know that our sense of balance and coordination also changes? All of these factors influence baby boomers’ risk of falls, which is the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among persons aged 65 and older.
Just ask David Bates. In February 2019, Bates, 65, was walking (perhaps a bit too quickly) down the same staircase in his Los Gatos Hills, Calif., home that he had walked down for 35 years. Thinking he had reached a landing, he was expecting to feel the floor under his foot; instead, it was another step. Hitting the step at an awkward angle made Bates lose his balance, causing him to tumble down the remaining 12 steps in the staircase.
Bates was in a hospital intensive care unit for a week with a concussion, eight broken ribs and multiple cuts and bruises. Although his injuries were not life threatening, the experience made him realize that improving his balance was just as important to his safety as maintaining his physical strength.
“Here I was bounding around the house thinking I was still 25 years old, but then something like this happens and it was a real wake up call,” said Bates, who is an avid mountain biker and takes no medications for pain or other chronic conditions. “It made me realize that I’m not as young as I think I am and I need to be more careful.”
As part of his recovery, Bates began visiting a doctor of chiropractic (DC). Along with chiropractic care, the doctor recommended Bates perform balance and strength-building exercises at home. In just a few months, the chiropractic care and regular exercise had significantly increased his balance and stability while improving his overall physical performance, Bates said.
“I started feeling a little bit better in just a week or two after the chiropractic care started,” said Bates, whose wife had recommended visiting a DC after she experienced improved balance and coordination from regular chiropractic care. “I really feel like I was getting results faster than with a regular medical doctor.”
Loss of Balance Cause of Most Falls
In a noteworthy 2012 study, researchers were able to pinpoint loss of balance as the main cause of falls in the elderly after videotaping residents living in a long-term care facility. Publishing their findings in the medical journal The Lancet, researchers analyzed 227 falls from 130 seniors and determined that the most frequent cause was incorrect weight shifting, which accounted for 41% of falls, occurring equally when the senior was either walking forward or just standing. Other fall contributors were a trip or stumble (21%), being hit or bumped (11%), loss of support (11%) or simply a collapse (11%). Surprisingly, slipping accounted for only 3% of falls.
Researchers concluded that obvious external factors, such as trips or being bumped, led to falls, but internal factors, such as when seniors shifted their weight awkwardly while walking, disrupted their balance and contributed to a spill. Chiropractic care can identify and correct awkward movements while preparing the mind and body to react to those external factors, a fact backed up by research. In studying chiropractic care methods that help prevent falls among older adults who suffer from neck pain or dysfunction and non-specific dizziness, researchers found the DCs were able to improve balance while reducing pain through chiropractic care.
What to Expect From a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC)
As doctors specifically trained to care for neuro-musculoskeletal conditions, DCs are the ideal providers to identify how to improve your body’s stability and strength to prevent falls and help you maintain independence and quality of life.
On that first visit, the doctor will perform a careful assessment of your fall risks. One such review recently implemented is called Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries (STEADI) and includes screening questions followed by a physical examination. Older adults at risk for falls who follow a STEADI-related prevention plan are less likely to have a fall-related hospitalization than similar patients without a plan.
If warranted, the DC will put a care plan in place that may include spinal manipulation (chiropractic adjustment), along with strength and balance exercises, to help improve the body’s reaction to fall-inducing situations. The doctor may also offer tips on how to improve home safety, such as removing thick area rugs from your floors or installing handrails in the bathtub.
Exercises to Improve Balance and Strength
Balance and strength-building exercises you can do at home are a crucial aspect of preventing falls. In fact, a study of older adults published in a chiropractic journal found that seniors with stronger thigh muscles had a lower risk of falls. The following are three exercises to consider, but only if you currently feel stable enough to perform them. As always, talk with your health provider before starting any exercise program.
Your DC may recommend other exercises, but the most important tip to remember is to perform them completely and consistently.
“Without chiropractic care, I don’t think I would be doing as well and feeling as well as I do now,” Bates said. “The care, the exercises, the advice from my doctor – everything has helped. I know I’m not 25 anymore, but I definitely don’t feel my age. Chiropractic has had a lot to do with that.”
About the author:
Sherry McAllister, DC, is president of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP). A not-for-profit organization with over 29,000 members, the F4CP informs and educates the general public about the value of chiropractic care delivered by doctors of chiropractic (DC) and its role in drug-free pain management. Learn more or find a DC at www.f4cp.org/findadoc.