Physical Therapy for Reducing Fall Risk

Are you or a loved one afraid of falling? Has a doctor ever told you you’re at risk for falls? As we age, our fall risk tends to increase – up to one third of community dwelling people over 65 fall every year. Those under 65 with certain underlying medical conditions can also be at an increased risk of falling. Many people also experience fear and anxiety around the possibility of falling. But there’s good news too – Physical Therapy can help.

How would you know whether someone is at risk of falling? There are many factors which can increase one’s risk for falls, such as:

  • Advanced age
  • Deconditioning and weakness
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Neuromuscular conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis
  • Vestibular system dysfunction, such as Vertigo
  • Cognitive decline

There are 3 systems of balance your body employs. These systems all provide valuable information to your brain to help keep your body upright.

  • Vision
  • Proprioception – senses muscle tension, joint position, and the feeling you get through your feet
  • Vestibular system of your inner ear- senses motion of the head

By challenging each of these 3 systems of balance in a safe environment, Physical Therapy can improve overall balance to reduce fall risk in the community.

Research shows that general physical activity helps to reduce fall risk. A multifaceted exercise program has shown to be most effective, vs. only one type of training (ex – resistance training only). Physical Therapy typically employs several strategies to reduce fall risk.

Interventions for fall prevention may include…

  • Narrow base of support/Single leg training
  • Balance training on uneven surfaces
  • Dynamic balance training
  • Stair and curb training, obstacle navigation
  • Muscle strengthening
  • Functional activity training
  • Gait training
  • Assistive device training (cane, walker)
  • Fall prevention education and assessment of environment
  • Cardiovascular exercise or walking program

In summary, balance training as part of a well-rounded exercise regimen has been proven to reduce fall risk. Your physical therapist will guide you through testing designed to determine your fall risk level. Then, based on that information they will design a customized plan of care to help improve your balance. A home exercise program (HEP) is usually given to help maximize the benefits of therapy. These exercises can be done at home safely with the use of a sturdy countertop, table, or chair. Your therapist will also help educate you about how you can reduce your risk of falling, and help you regain confidence to go through your daily activities with less fear of falling.