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Falls Prevention

As winter weather approaches, the risk of slip and fall increases with icy conditions. Along with lining up to get your winter tires on, test out your balance and ability to recover from a slip to minimize the risk of falls. Try this out with your loved ones as well:
Tandem Stance Static Balance Test
Testing Procedure: Ensuring you have some sturdy furniture nearby, stand with one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. Hold for 30 seconds.

If you’re experiencing difficulty with the tandem stance, your balance is not the greatest. Balance is a combination of body sense and positioning to know when you’re not where you want to be, and power/strength to correct your body and shift your centre of weight back to the middle. With proper exercises, your balance can definitely improve. It just takes practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. A physiotherapist can do further testing to determine what exercises you would benefit from the most to improve your balance and decrease your falls risk.

If you did that easily with minimal shifting back and forth or side to side and no flailing arms, then you have pretty good balance, and you can try to hold the tandem stance but with your eyes closed for another 30 seconds. When your eyes are closed, you end up relying less on your visual inputs for stability, and more on your vestibular (inner ear) system, and your proprioceptive (body sense/position) inputs.

Previous Ankle Sprains?
Ankle sprains, no matter how minor, can affect one’s balance if it wasn’t properly rehabilitated. Receptors in ligaments send important proprioceptive information to the brain. Proprioception is defined as the sense of knowing where your limbs or body is in space. If you close your eyes and move your hand up and down into certain positions, you know exactly if the hand is parallel to the ground, or if it is parallel to the wall. This sense of positioning is especially important in the foot as that’s the part of your body that is, more often than not, always in contact with the floor. Injured ligaments will result in a loss of proprioceptive signals being sent to the brain. Instead of knowing if your hand is 0.5cm from parallel, you know only know if your hand is 1 inch from parallel. If the brain doesn’t know the exact position of your foot, there is a slower response to correcting your position or loss of balance. Hence, you have an increased chance of a subsequent ankle sprain or poor balance in the affected foot. Proprioceptive exercises are crucial for all ankle and foot injuries (as well as shoulders), but if you had never seen a physiotherapist for the injury, you may have adhesions surrounding the ligament that may need some manual work as well, prior to proprioceptive training.

Written By: Danette Lam, PT