Have you ever fallen while doing laundry in your basement and had to wait for your spouse to come home to help you up? Have you ever tripped and fallen outside and felt helpless, not able to pull up on something to maneuver yourself home? Do you experience fear just walking through your living room, knowing that if you fall you will not be able to get back up? These are real life examples from some of our patients. Their inability to get up from the ground had limited their activities, limited walking distances and limited comfortable locations to only a few specific places.
The medical problems vary, but the recurrent theme we see is the fear of falling and the fear of not being able to stand back up. One patient, when I told her we were going to practice getting up from the floor, said with much emotion and fear, “If I get down on the floor, I will never be able to get back up.” However, after going through our exercise program and receiving instruction, this patient was able to stand up unassisted! She felt liberated and showed much elation as this tremendous burden was lifted. The importance of balance training for our patients cannot be under estimated.
After we provide individualized instruction to patients on how to get up from the floor, we then address the prevention of falls in the first place. We assess the balance, strength, range of motion, and gait of each patient and provide them with appropriate exercises.
Balance is a component of three major factors: proprioception, vision, and the vestibular system. Proprioception is your ability to know the position of your body and limbs in space. Vision is the ability to assess the environment. The vestibular system is the inner ear’s ability to convey your head position in space.
The strength and range of motion of your legs, arms, and trunk plays an important part in your ability to stay standing and also your ability to get up from the floor. Obviously, the more strength and flexibility you have, the easier it is for you to help yourself up from the floor.
Gait is the way you walk, whether it is independently or with an assistant device such as a cane or walker.
The best thing about balance is that it can be improved. Our patients have seen remarkable gains in their balance, thus they are experiencing a reduction in falls. If they do fall, they now have the ability and confidence to get back up again. As one of our patients remarked, “I have been able to do things now I couldn’t do before or was just too afraid to try. I feel like I have a new lease on life.”