Having a fall, whether it’s in our own home or when we’re out and about, can change our lives entirely. The injury we sustain from a fall can affect our ability to not only walk and move but stay independent – it might mean we have to stop living independently within our home and instead move into a care facility.
Here in New Zealand, according to ACC, approximately 30% to 60% of those aged over 65 years will have a fall every year – with up to 20% of these ending up in hospital with a broken bone – a figure that only increases in likelihood with age, with those aged above 85 years having the greatest risk.
Once you have a fall, at any age, the risk of you having another fall increases greatly. Aside from the physical pain and restrictions, falls can take a significant toll on your mental health, with fear and anxiety over another fall becoming more prevalent and with less confidence when it comes to movement. Together, this leads to a hesitation to participate in physical activity and social events – and the less we move, the harder it becomes.
How do podiatrists help with falls?
As podiatrists focus in on the function, movement and stability of the feet and legs, we help by:
- Identifying the characteristics of your feet and legs, as well as your footwear, that make you more vulnerable to falling
- Diagnosing any problems in the feet and legs that may be causing you to change the way you walk, or walk in a less-than-optimal way, that may increase your falls risk
- Treating or managing the problems we identify to reduce your falls risk
- Putting additional measures in place to improve your stability on your feet, or make walking easier and more comfortable
- Assess your footwear to ensure it isn’t contributing to your falls risk and is instead helping you walk comfortably and safely
Footwear: Does it really matter?
The shoes you wear on a regular basis, or lack thereof, can play a large role in your falls risk. There are a number of things our patients never think of until we discuss it with them – like the weight of their shoes. When your shoes are heavy and clunky, it can weigh your foot down, especially when you may already have some weakness in the muscles in your feet and legs. This can make you more likely to catch the bottom of your shoe on the ground, making you more likely to trip and fall.
Another feature is how much your shoe allows your foot to roll around from side-to-side. A good shoe should keep your foot steady and stable, whereas flimsy shoes will let your feet naturally roll from side to side, tiring the muscles in your feet and legs and making you more vulnerable to injuries – especially ankle sprains. While this may not be as obvious inside your home, the moment you go out for a walk and start walking over uneven ground, it can cause a big problem.
What happens when we fall?
When we fall, the big risk is that we have an injury like a fracture (broken bone). This is much more likely the older we get, given that the prevalence of osteoporosis (weak, fragile bones), as well as medical conditions like arthritis, are much higher, putting us at risk.
Whether it’s an injured muscle, tendon or a broken bone, we’ll need to recover from our injury, which will see us either changing the way we walk and move (which can lead to a series of other pains and problems), or staying immobile in a cast, walker or moonboot for a period. When we’re immobilised, we stop using the surrounding muscles, causing them to weaken. This makes recovery and healthy movement even harder, and can be very stressful on our bodies – especially as we grow older.
While we do help our patients recover from such injuries at all ages, we always believe that prevention is better than treatment, which is where falls prevention comes in.
Let’s prevent those falls
If you’re worried about falls – or about a family member having their first or another fall – bring them in to see our experienced podiatry team. We’ll go through a falls assessment and discuss the best ways to help them prevent falls and stay comfortable and movile on their feet.