See a physical therapist for any foot and ankle pain

Some foot conditions come on gradually, like plantar fasciitis, which starts as a stabbing pain in the heel and then often grows more severe over time. Others are more sudden, like an ankle sprain or broken toe, both of which lead to immediate pain and make it difficult to put any pressure on the injured leg. Regardless of the manner in which these symptoms develop, the end result is often the same: an inability to get around and function normally. For active individuals, it also means participating in your respective sport at a lower level or not being able to participate at all.

Everyone responds to pain differently, as some will seek out help immediately, while others delay action until things get worse. One of the good things about foot and ankle injuries is that they are all very treatable, and surgery is not needed in the majority of cases; however, waiting too long to address these conditions is also a dangerous approach. Continuing to exercise despite pain will often add to the damage in the structures of your ankle and feet, which will exacerbate your symptoms and increase the risk for future injuries.

This is why it’s best to take proactive steps any time you’re dealing with foot or ankle pain. For traumatic injuries like ankle sprains, we strongly recommend the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) protocol in the first 24-72 hours to relieve painful symptoms and reduce your risk for further injury during this time. You should also massage the painful area to improve circulation and reduce soreness, and consider adding shoe inserts and replacing old or worn out shoes, which may contribute to overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis.

Visit a physical therapist when pain persists

If you’ve taken these measures and pain continues to bother you, the next move you should make is to see a physical therapist as soon as you can. Physical therapists are movement experts that will focus on identifying the source of your pain with a comprehensive evaluation and detailed interview of your injury history. From there, they will design an individualized treatment program to address the impairments identified, which is always based on your needs, preferences, abilities, and goals. A typical rehabilitation plan for a foot or ankle injury includes the following:

  • Pain-relieving modalities: ice/heat, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation are often used to reduce pain levels
  • Manual therapy: this set of hands-on techniques involves mobilizing and manipulating muscles and joints in specific directions and at different speeds to help you regain lost movement
  • Strengthening exercises: these exercises are designed to build back strength that may have been lost in the muscles surrounding the injured area due to reduced activity levels; common strengthening exercises for foot and ankle injuries include calf raises, doming, and scissor hops
  • Stretching exercises: stretching out sore, stiff, or painful joints will increase flexibility levels and result in improved function over time; common stretching exercises for foot and ankle injuries include the plantar fascia stretch, towel stretch, and ankle inversion and eversion exercises
  • Functional training: if you’re involved in sports, your physical therapist will design specific interventions that mimic the motions and movements involved in that activity, so you’ll be better prepared to handle the demands once you return

So, if you’re dealing with an injury or lingering pain that won’t seem to improve, contact us today to set up an appointment and get started on your path to recover.

Three best exercises to prevent ankle and foot-related injuries

There’s no getting around it. In order to move from point A to point B, you need healthy feet and ankles. While you may not realize how crucial this is to your movements under normal circumstances, your perspective will likely change any time pain is introduced to the equation.

Injuries to the ankles and feet are common in all age groups, as ankle sprains alone have been found to account for up to 45% of all athletic injuries. Active individuals are generally at a higher risk due to the repetitive strain that they place on this region, with many injuries occurring gradually over time from the accumulation of minor damage to ligaments, tendons, and other structures. Regardless of the cause, injuries involving the ankle and/or foot typically result in challenges with walking, climbing stairs, and many other movements that are necessary for everyday life. For many patients with severe issues, every step taken leads to significant pain, which means even basic tasks can be met with extreme difficulty.

Fortunately, there are several measures you can take to reduce your risk for foot and ankle injuries. One of the most effective steps is to maintain adequate ankle and foot mobility, which is primarily accomplished by performing specific exercises on a regular basis. Below are three of the best exercises for the ankle and foot to improve mobility and prevent injury:

Three helpful ankle and foot mobility exercises

  1. Ankle alphabet
    • Sit on the ground or in a chair with one leg raised and your foot outstretched
    • Trace out each letter of the alphabet in the air, using your big toe as the “pencil”
    • Perform one set at least once per day
  2. Ankle passive range of motion
    • Grasp your lower leg just above the ankle with one hand
    • Grasp your foot with the opposite hand, using it to flex and extend the foot and ankle
    • Hold the stretch for 10 seconds
    • Perform one set of 10 repetitions at least once per day
  3. Gastrocnemius standing stretch
    • Stand facing a wall
    • Place one foot behind the other and make sure both toes are pointing forward
    • Slowly lean into the wall until the stretch is felt while keeping your heel on the ground
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds
    • Perform one set of two repetitions at least once per day
    • Read our next newsletter for a breakdown the role that physical therapy can play in rehabilitating these types of injuries.

Understanding your risk for the most common foot and ankle injuries

All regions of the body are vulnerable to a unique set of injuries, depending on how the structures in that particular area are affected by common activities. The likelihood of injury therefore varies from one location to the next, with higher activity levels generally corresponding with a greater injury risk throughout the entire body. But there are also certain “hotspots” that tend to be involved in injury far more frequently than others.

One of these hotspot areas is the feet and ankles, which often sustain damage because of the heavy loads they have to withstand from the rest of the body. There are several structures and mechanisms in place that increase their durability and prepare them for these forces, but like every other body part, they have a breaking point. When pushed past this point, the result is often a wide range of potential injuries.

Below are some of the most common injuries that occur in the feet and ankles:

  • Ankle sprain: ankle sprains occur when the ligaments surrounding the ankle are stretched beyond their limit in a forceful motion; these are the most common injuries in all of sports, and about half of all ankle sprains are related to physical activity; nearly 25,000 people sprain their ankle every day, and they typically lead to pain, swelling, and an inability to put pressure on the ankle
  • Plantar fasciitis: generally considered to be the most common cause of heel pain in adults, this condition results from inflammation of the plantar fascia; when this tissue is overstrained from repeated activity—like running—it becomes inflamed, which leads to a stabbing pain near the heel that is most noticeable upon waking up
  • Achilles tendinitis: another overuse injury due to inflammation of the Achilles tendon; it’s most common in runners who do lots of speed training, uphill running, or rapidly increase their training intensity or duration, and it leads to heel pain that usually comes on gradually as a mild ache in the back of the leg or above the heel
  • Stress fractures: these injuries are the result of small cracks or severe bruising caused by repetitive strain to the foot; they are common in both children and adults, and are most frequently seen when a person changes their usual exercise regimen with a sudden increase of activity or a change in workout surface
  • Turf toe: this is a sprain of the ligaments surrounding the big toe when it’s bent back too far (hyperextended), which is common in football players; it can occur from a sudden, forceful movement or repeated hyperextensions over a period of time, and leads to pain, swelling, and limited movement of the big toe
  • Sever’s disease: this is an overuse injury that results from inflammation of the growth plate (an area of growing tissue near the ends of bones in children) in the heel; it’s caused by repetitive stress to the heel and typically occurs during growth spurts; symptoms include pain and tenderness underneath the heel. Be sure to read our newsletter next week for some useful exercises that will help you maintain mobility and reduce your risk for foot and ankle injuries.

Be sure to read our newsletter next week for some useful exercises that will help you maintain mobility and reduce your risk for foot and ankle injuries.

The complexity of the ankle & foot is necessary for our mobility

Your feet and ankles are built for durability. They are designed this way to account for the significant amount of pressure they withstand every time you perform an activity that involves standing. When running, for example, each foot takes on a force that can be as much as three times your body weight. As a result, the foot and ankle have an anatomy that is both beautiful and complex, and this complexity plays a major role allowing you to complete the movements necessary to navigate the world.

The anatomy of the ankle and foot are connected and very closely related. The ankle joint is made up of three bones:

  • Tibia: the shinbone, the major bone of the lower leg, which is responsible for bearing most of the body’s weight
  • Fibula: the other bone of the lower leg, which is thinner than the tibia and sits behind it; the fibula helps to stabilize the ankle and supports the surrounding muscles
  • Talus: a small bone at the top of the foot that helps transfer weight and pressure forces across the ankle joint; the top of the talus is shaped like a dome and is completely covered by cartilage, which is a tough, rubbery tissue that allows the ankle to move smoothly

The talus is one of the 26 bones that make up the foot. On top of this basic structure, each foot also consists of 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Tendons are cords of strong tissue that connect muscles to bones, with each muscle being connected to one or more bones of the foot by a tendon. Ligaments are flexible bands of tissue that connect bones to one another. In the ankle, they bind joints together and provide stability by limiting side–to–side movement. They are elastic structures, which means they can stretch within their limits and then return to their normal position.

Some of the other structures of the foot and ankle that are important for their movement and function include the following:

  • Plantar fascia: a thick, connective band of soft tissue that stretches from the heel to the base of your toes at the ball of the foot; this strong ligament connects the bones in these two regions and is designed to absorb the significant amount of stress placed on the feet, and it can withstand a great deal of force
  • Achilles tendon: this tendon connects the two calf muscles to the back of the heel bone, and it provides support and stability for the ankle when performing many common movements like walking and running; most of the force generated when pushing the toe off the ground during a running stride is transmitted to the Achilles, which can be as much as three times your body weight
  • Two longitudinal arches: these arches span the length of the foot from the heel bone to behind the ball of the foot
    • Medial longitudinal arch: runs across the inside of the foot
    • Lateral longitudinal arch: runs across the outside of the foot
  • One transverse arch: spans the width of the foot

These three arches are formed by the tarsus and the metatarsal bones in the middle of the foot, and their shape allows them to act like a spring for the rest of the body. Any time you are on your feet, the arches bear your body weight and absorb the shock placed on them when you move. This force is then sent back to the rest of the body during actions like running and jumping. The arches are also quite flexible, which helps the feet appropriately respond to just about any type of movement.

Read our next newsletter for a look at how these structures are involved in some of the most common foot and ankle injuries.

5 tips to simplify your life with knee pain

In our last newsletter, we showed you why regular movement is key to overcoming knee pain and presented some of the best knee-strengthening exercises that will help you work towards this goal. These types of exercises can be extremely effective for anyone dealing with knee pain, but in some cases, additional strategies are needed just to help individuals stay mobile and navigate their surroundings.

Patients with severe knee pain and those who are recovering from surgeries like ACL reconstruction or knee joint replacement may be impaired to a point where basic activities become extremely difficult. These tasks can be even more challenging for older adults with balance issues who have to contend with several limitations to their mobility. Assistive devices like canes, crutches, and walkers may therefore be recommended in these situations to compensate for any limitations these patients may be dealing with.

There are right and wrong ways to use assistive devices, and using them correctly will result in less pain and a reduced risk for future injury. With this in mind, we offer these tips to help you better handle your knee pain:

5 pieces of advice for knee pain

  1. Up with the good…
    • It’s important to walk up and down stairs in a particular way if you have severe knee pain
    • When going up stairs, step with the good (non-injured) leg first while holding onto the railing
    • Once that foot is on the stair, step up with the bad (injured) leg
    • This allows the non-injured leg to do most of the work to push the body up the stair while leaving minimal work for the injured leg
  2. …down with the bad
    • When coming down stairs, step with the bad leg first while holding onto the railing
    • Once that foot is on the stair, step down with the good leg
    • This is done because the back (good) leg is the one doing most of the work when walking down stairs
  3. Make sure your chair is at the right height
    • Sitting in a chair that is too high or too low can put your legs in a compromised position and make your knee pain worse
    • In a sitting position, your feet should be flat on the floor or a footrest and your knees should be at or slightly below the level of your hips
    • Your knees should be bent at an angle of 90-130 degrees
    • If your chair height does not allow you to sit in this position, switch to a chair that does or adjust the height of your chair if possible
  4. Use the correct hand to hold your cane
    • Many patients do not hold their cane in the correct hand, which can lead to unnecessary strain on their injured knee
    • The cane should always be held in the hand opposite of the painful side
      • This means if you had surgery on your left knee, hold your cane in the right hand and advance it forward when the left leg steps forward
    • This also applies to stairs, as you should walk up with the cane and the good leg, and down with the cane and the bad leg
  5. Properly align your body with your walker
    • If you are using a front wheel walker, be sure to keep the front of your body in line with the back two posts of the walker
    • Advance the walker a few inches in front of you first, and make sure all tips and wheels are touching the ground before taking a step
    • Step forward with your bad leg first, then step forward with your good leg, placing it in front of your lead foot

It’s imperative that these tasks are performed correctly to help you avoid further knee pain or injury, and a physical therapist can provide the additional guidance needed to give you confidence that you’re doing them the right way. Contact us today to learn more and schedule an appointment.

Disclaimer – This article and associated images is for educational purposes only. They are not meant to be a substitute for physical therapy or medical care. Please consult with your physical therapist and/or doctor before you start this or any other exercise program.

4 strengthening exercises to help you bounce back from knee pain

Knee pain has a way of reminding patients that it’s there throughout most of the day. For many individuals with this type of pain, it’s the first thing they notice upon getting out of bed in the morning, and it is often felt throughout many daily activities—like walking up stairs, getting in and out of a car, and bending down to pick up dropped items—until bedtime.

Some patients may respond to knee pain with what they consider to be a logical solution: keep knee movements down to a minimum to avoid any further pain and aggravation. This approach may appear to make sense, but the truth is that it will actually do more harm than good.

Limiting your knee movement will mean less overall mobility, and with that comes reduced flexibility and strength of the leg. This will in turn lead to an increased injury risk and additional problems down the road if the behavior is continued. Instead, the goal should be to focus on keeping the knee mobile and increasing the strength of the muscles that surround the knee, particularly the quadriceps (front of the thigh), hamstrings (back of the thigh), and the gastrocnemius (one of the calf muscles). Strengthening these muscles will lead to better support and stability of the knee joint, which is fundamental for overcoming knee pain. We recommend the following exercises to accomplish this:

The 4 best knee-strengthening exercises for pain

Disclaimer – This article and associated images is for educational purposes only. They are not meant to be a substitute for physical therapy or medical care. Please consult with your physical therapist and/or doctor before you start this or any other exercise program.

  1. Wall Sit
    • Start with your back against a wall with your feet shoulder width apart, and about 2 feet from the wall
    • Engage your abdominal muscles and slowly slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground
    • Adjust your feet so your knees are directly above your ankles
    • Keep your back flat against the wall
    • Hold the position for 20-60 seconds
    • Slide slowly back up the wall to a standing position
    • Rest 30 seconds and repeat the exercise three times
    • Increase your hold time by five seconds as you increase your strength.
  2. Bridge Exercise
    • Lie on your back with your hands at your sides, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor under your knees
    • Tighten your abs and buttocks by pushing your low back into the ground
    • Raise your hips to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders
    • Squeeze your core and pull your belly button back toward your spine
    • Hold for 20-30 seconds, then return to your starting position
    • Complete at least 10 reps
  3. Single-leg Heel Raise
    • While standing, use a sturdy counter or chair for balance
    • Lift one foot and stand with your weight on the other foot
    • Rise up on your toes, then lower back onto your heel
    • Repeat 10 times, for 3 sets
    • To make the exercise easier, perform it with both feet
    • To make the exercise more difficult, perform it on the edge of a step or ledge with one or both feet
  4. Partial Lunge
    • While standing, step forward to about three-quarters of your full stride; this is your starting position
    • Put most of your bodyweight on the leg in front
    • Lower your body until your front thigh is almost parallel to the floor
      • If you lose balance before your thigh gets to this position, return to the starting position at any time
    • Keep your front knee aligned over the first and second toes, while the back can be bent at the knee or kept straight Repeat 10 times, for 3 sets

A physical therapist can help ensure that you’re performing these exercises correctly and provide you with additional knee-strengthening exercises to address your pain. Contact us to learn more or schedule an appointment.

In our next newsletter, we’ll provide some tips to help simplify your life with knee pain so you can get around more easily.

Try these 4 exercises for knee mobility and keep your injury risk low

In our last newsletter, we explained why knee pain is so common and explored some of the most common conditions that involve the knee. Knee pain can strike at any age, and while the specific reasons it occurs may vary among different populations, the result is usually the same: an inability to move and function normally in daily life.

We need healthy knees to perform just about any activity that involves the legs, which means the ability to walk, squat, or sit/stand from a chair can be impaired by knee pain. Many of these activities are vital to get through a typical day, meaning that knee pain can prove to be a major hindrance to one’s quality of life. For athletes, knee issues can cause further complications by limiting or preventing play entirely until the pain resolves.

One of the main reasons knee pain occurs so frequently is an overall lack of mobility in the joint, which is often due to inactivity. The good news is that you can improve your knee mobility and reduce your risk for knee pain in the process by performing exercises that target the muscles surrounding the knee. We recommend the following:

Four mobility exercises to reduce your risk for knee pain

Disclaimer – This article and associated images is for educational purposes only. They are not meant to be a substitute for physical therapy or medical care. Please consult with your physical therapist and/or doctor before you start this or any other exercise program.

  1. Quadriceps stretch
    • Lie on the floor on one side
    • Grasp your ankle and gently pull your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh
    • Tighten your stomach muscles to prevent your stomach from sagging outward, and keep your knees close together
    • Hold for about 30 seconds
    • Switch legs and repeat
  2. Hamstring stretch
    • Lie on the floor near the outer corner of a wall or a door frame
    • Raise your left leg and rest your left heel against the wall
    • Keep your left knee slightly bent
    • Gently straighten your left leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh
    • Hold for about 30 seconds
    • Switch legs and repeat
    • As your flexibility increases, maximize the stretch by gradually scooting yourself closer to the wall or door frame.
  3. Calf stretch
    • Stand at arm's length from a wall or a piece of sturdy exercise equipment
    • Place your right foot behind your left foot about a foot away
    • Slowly bend your left leg forward, keeping your right knee straight and your right heel on the floor
    • Hold your back straight and your hips forward
    • Don't rotate your feet inward or outward
    • Hold for about 30 seconds
    • Switch legs and repeat
    • To deepen the stretch, slightly bend your right knee as you bend your left leg forward
  4. Knee range of motion exercise
    • Sit down with both legs out in front of you
    • Place a towel around your ankle and hold it with both hands
    • Pull the towel and slide your ankle towards your buttocks while keeping your heel on the ground
    • Continue pulling the towel as far as your knee can bend
    • Hold for about 30 seconds
    • Slide your ankle back to the starting position
    • Switch legs and repeat

A physical therapist can help ensure that you’re performing these exercises correctly and provide you with additional exercises to further increase your knee mobility. Contact us today to learn more or schedule an appointment.

In our next newsletter, we’ll discuss the role that strengthening exercises can play in alleviating your knee pain.

Knee pain is common when the joint is pushed beyond its limits

The knee joint is built for durability, which is necessary considering how much action it gets on a daily basis. But it can only withstand so much, and when pushed past its limits, the result is pain and injury. Knee pain is the second most common disorder that affects the body’s movement—behind only back pain—and it’s the leading cause of disability in older adults. But struggles with knee pain are seen across the board, with individuals of all ages and activity levels being affected by it.

The knee is the largest and one of the most complex joints in the body, and its complexity is one of the main reasons it’s so vulnerable to injury. The frequency with which it’s used also plays a significant role. The knee is a hinge joint that’s responsible for bearing weight and allowing the leg to extend and bend back and forth with minimal side-to-side motion. It primarily joins the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia), but also includes the kneecap (patella) and other lower leg bone (fibula). The patella is a small, triangle-shaped bone that sits in the front of the knee within the quadriceps muscle, and it’s lined with the thickest layer of cartilage in the body because of the massive forces it takes on.

Other important structures of the knee joint include the following:

  • Meniscus: crescent-shaped discs that act as a cushion and shock absorber so that the bones of the knee can move without rubbing against each other; each knee has a medial (inner side, larger) and lateral (outer side, smaller) meniscus
  • Articular cartilage: this thin layer of protective cartilage is found on the femur, top of the tibia, and back of the patella also acts as a shock absorber and helps bones to move smoothly
  • Ligaments: these tough bands of fibrous tissue connect bones and promote their stability by preventing too much motion in any direction
    • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): prevents the femur from sliding backward on the tibia and the tibia from sliding forward on the femur
    • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL): prevents the femur from sliding forward on the tibia and the tibia from sliding backward on the femur
    • Medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligaments (LCL): these ligaments prevent side-to-side movement of the femur
  • Joint capsule: a membrane bag surrounding the knee that’s filled with a liquid called synovial fluid, which lubricates and nourishes the joint

The likelihood of experiencing different knee conditions changes with age

A variety of issues can affect any of these structures of the knees at any time, but there are certain knee conditions that are seen more frequently in different age groups. For children and adolescents, most cases of knee pain are due to traumatic injuries that typically occur in sports with lots of cutting movements like basketball, football, and soccer. Sprains of the ligaments and strains of the muscles and tendons are most common, but the meniscus, ACL, and other knee ligaments can also be torn when the force exerted on the knee is strong enough.

Many young athletes also have to contend with overuse injuries, which result from performing certain movements over and over, leading to minor damage that accumulates over time and goes on to cause inflammation, irritation, and pain. Osgood-Schlatter disease, in which the area just below the knee becomes inflamed, is a common overuse injury in adolescents involved in sports with lots of running, jumping and/or rapid changes of direction. Other overuse injuries include patellar tendinopathy (jumper’s knee), iliotibial band syndrome, and patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee).

Later in life, some knee issues are seen less often while other new ones start to emerge. Knee osteoarthritis (OA) accounts for the vast majority of knee pain in older adults, with about 45% individuals expected to deal with it at some point. The condition is so common in this older population because the knee sustains small amounts of damage from everyday use over time and due to the aging process. Knee OA usually leads to pain, stiffness, and swelling that makes it incredibly difficult to walk and move the knees normally.

The risk for traumatic injuries (eg, sprains, strains, and tears) also remains high for adults that stay active in sports and physical activities, and the risk overuse injuries tends to increase with older age because of the gradual breaking down of structures that occurs over time. Common overuse injuries of the knee—some of which were mentioned above—include the following:

  • Patellar tendinopathy (jumper’s knee): results from repeated strain of the patellar tendon that attaches the bottom of the patella to the top of the tibia; symptoms include pain and stiffness at the front or below the patella and/or in the quadriceps, and an ache that typically develops after from exercise
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee): involves the patella rubbing against the groove of the femur and accounts for up to 25% of all running injuries; common symptoms are a dull pain behind or around the patella, which may be aggravated by running, squatting, climbing stairs, or sitting
  • Patellar instability: a general term used to describe intermittent pain that comes with the feeling of the patella moving excessively or being unstable; symptoms are pain that’s felt under, around, or most commonly, in front of the patella
  • Iliotibial band syndrome: an injury in which the iliotibial band—which runs from the hip to the top of the tibia—becomes irritated or inflamed from rubbing against the patella; symptoms include pain on the outside of the knee or hip that usually arises after running

In our next newsletter, we look into one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk for experiencing knee pain.

Physical therapists provide a crucial service for preventing falls

Falls are scary, and they can be disabling in both direct and indirect ways. Directly, they often cause injuries that can make it difficult to move and function normally. And then indirectly, they can create a significant fear of falling in many individuals, which in turn leads to less movement and activity which can then further increase the risk for another fall. Any way you slice it, falls can do some serious damage to the lives and independence of older adults.

So if you or someone close to you is in the “at–risk” population for falling, you may very well be interested in taking action to somehow lower the chances. There is a variety of steps one can take to work towards reducing their fall risk, but perhaps the most direct and effective solution is to see a physical therapist for specific guidance.

Physical therapists are experts of human movement that specialize in finding ways to help patients move more effectively and confidently. As such, they are perfectly equipped to identify which older adults are at risk for falls and then guide them through the steps needed to improve their health and modify their lives in ways that will prevent falls from occurring.

From screening, to assessment, to prevention The first step of the fall prevention process is determining whether or not someone is at risk for falling. This is done by an initial screen, which can be given to anyone over the age of 65 and typically consists of three questions:

  1. Have you had 2 or more falls in the last 12 months?
  2. Have you fallen recently?
  3. Do you have any difficulty with walking or balance (the therapist will also examine this briefly to make a determination)?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then the patient is considered to be in the “high risk for falls” category. From here, a much more thorough assessment is needed, which will include a detailed interview about medications the patient is taking, their fall history, and a physical examination to evaluate balance, strength, mobility, and other factors. This assessment allows the physical therapist to more accurately understand the actual risk for a fall and the impairments present in each patient that need to be targeted.

Based on these findings, the therapist will then create a personalized fall-prevention program to begin right away. Every program is therefore unique according to the patient’s specific impairments and abilities, but research has shown that the best prevention strategies include a variety of different exercises, particularly those that aim to improve balance and strength. As patients repeatedly perform these types of exercises, their reaction times will become more automatic, which will consequently reduce their risk for falls. Part of the program will also involve recommendations for regular physical activity in order to boost fitness levels, which is key for fall prevention.

Lastly, a physical therapist will educate patients and provide specific instructions on how to reduce or eliminate hazards in the home environment and elsewhere. Below are some of the most common tips physical therapists usually provide:

  • Conduct a walkthrough of your home—or have a friend/family member do it—to identify possible hazards that may lead to a fall, then make necessary changes
  • Install handrails on both sides of all stairways, avoid clutter and putting any items on the floor, remove throw rugs and make sure your home is well–lit
  • In bathroom, use nonskid mats, a raised toilet seat and grab bars as needed
  • If you’re supposed to use a walking assistive device, be sure you’re using it properly and at all times, both in and out of the house
  • Get your eyes checked once a year, and get adequate calcium and vitamin D
  • If you’re taking numerous medications, learn the side effects and if there are any interactions that can increase your risk of falling
  • Wear shoes with nonskid soles and consider using Velcro or Spyrolaces
  • Take your time, be patient and ask others for help with difficult, risky tasks

While the power to prevent falls is ultimately in your hands, seeing a physical therapist will be extremely helpful for guiding you and to identify the safest approach to keep you on your feet.

Check out these 4 exercises to help reduce the risk for falls.

If you’re an older adult, a fear of falling may weigh on you every day. This is completely understandable, as falls are the top cause of injury for those over the age of 65. Falls also become more common with each additional year of life that passes due to the increased likelihood of developing other health conditions.

But you should not allow this fear to dominate your life or prevent you from moving. A far more beneficial response is to figure out what you need to do to overcome this fear entirely. And how might this be accomplished? By taking steps to significantly reduce your personal risk for falling.

Falls are usually the results of both environmental hazards–like a loose rug or icy walkway–and personal factors like poor balance or mobility. Reducing or eliminating environmental hazards in your home is one of the most important steps to preventing falls, but it’s only part of the solution, especially when you consider that you can’t control the environment outside of your home. The other major step is to keep yourself mobile and active, which will help you to retain your abilities and address any impairments that might be holding you back.

General physical activity that’s carefully executed is a great start, but to truly lower your fall risk, specific exercises are best. Strength, flexibility, balance, and proprioception (sensing your body’s location relative to other things and controlling its positioning) all tend to decline naturally in older age, so these are the areas that are most crucial to work on. With that in mind, here are the four best exercises designed to strengthen your weaknesses and reduce your risk for falling:

Single–leg stance exercise: improves your balance on each leg, which will in turn help with overall balance

  • Hold on to the back of a chair with both hands
  • Slowly lift one leg off the ground and maintain your balance while standing on one leg for 5 seconds
  • Return to the starting position and repeat 5 times; try to increase the time spent standing on one leg
  • Perform with the opposite leg

Heel–to–toe walk: helps you better maintain your balance while moving and encountering obstacles

  • Position the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of your other foot (your heel and toes should touch or almost (touch)
  • Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk
  • Take a step by putting your heel just in front of the toe of your other foot
  • Continue for 20 steps total, then turn around and return
  • Repeat five times

Sit–to–stand exercise (basic):strengthens your leg, core, and back muscles, increases overall mobility, and improves balance

  • Scoot or walk your hips up to the edge of the chair
  • Bring your toes back underneath knees
  • (Optional: use your arms to push off the chair or your knees)
  • Lean forward a little to bring your nose over your toes and push up with your legs to a standing position
  • To sit, bend a little at the knees to push your hips toward the chair and lower your body to a seated position
  • Pause before doing the next repetition
  • Aim for 10 repetitions

Heel raise: strengthens the calf and thigh muscles to improve balance

  • Stand with the back of a chair in front of you
  • Keep your feet 6–8 inches apart, flat on the floor, and parallel to each other
  • Bend your knees slightly so that they are not locked out
  • Elevate your heels to rise on to the balls of your feet; while in motion, use the back of the chair for balance
  • Reverse the motion to the starting position
  • Try to complete at least 2 sets with 10–15 repetitions

Making these exercises a regular part of your routine will build your strength and improve your flexibility, balance, and proprioception. This, in turn, will lead to better overall functioning and will reduce your fall risk. So what are you waiting for?