We can all be at risk of falling at any time of life, whether it’s slipping on a wet floor, tripping on an uneven surface or just losing our balance. During the winter months there are increased risks of falls associated with earlier darkness, and icy conditions, often resulting in broken bones or serious injury.

More than 30% of people over the age of 65 have a fall every year. Bone density starts to decrease from when we’re in our late thirties – as we get older our bones lose strength, breaking more easily. Also, poor eyesight, lack of coordination and loss of balance can all be contributory factors which could lead us to potentially slip, trip or fall which might result in a break or fracture to our bones.

The likelihood of suffering an injury from a fall is heightened if suffering from osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a bone condition where the bones weaken, become fragile and prone to break or fracture. Osteoporosis tends to affect females more than males and is more common over the age of 50. This condition predominantly affects the wrists, hips and the spine.

There are some risk factors that can contribute to having low bone density, osteoporosis, or broken bones:

  • Smoking can slow down cell production in the body that builds bones
  • Drinking too much alcohol also causes low cell production affecting bone strength
  • You’ll probably have less bone tissue if you have low body weight
  • Menopausal women have decreased levels of oestrogen, which increases the risk of having osteoporosis, taking HRT can help to prevent this
  • Age: your bones lose strength the older you get, increasing the likelihood to break
  • Poor diet: your body needs a well-balanced, nutritious diet to aid bone strength
  • Certain health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, anorexia, hyperthyroidism can result in having low bone strength, as can some medications.

How can your Podiatrist help?

Podiatrists can play an active role in reducing the risk of falls by assessing and treating foot pain, identifying and correcting gait abnormalities by prescribing insoles, issue exercise programmes to improve muscle strength and stability, and provide footwear advice.

As part of our new patient assessment our Podiatrists will carry out a pressure mat balance assessment which can inform the Podiatrist if any deterioration in your balance has taken place. The assessment generates a visual image of how much weight each part of your foot is supporting, and how much this alters as you try to stand still. This indicates how much your body moves or sways as you stand. It also shows areas of high pressure under your foot, and how this alters as you try to stand still. This may be particularly helpful if you have conditions such as peripheral neuropathy (loss of sensation in your feet) or have had a stroke, for example, as you may be unaware of how much pressure parts of your feet have to cope with.

Your balance will be recorded to show how much sway your body makes. Normally this is done with your eyes open while you try to stand still, but for more advanced assessments it can be done either for longer, or with your eyes closed (if safe to do so), on one leg or doing exercises for example, to help understand certain problems you may have. If a simple balance assessment shows more body sway than is normal, the Podiatrist will advise what steps can be taken to improve things, or if needed, use the assessment to make a referral to other services that may be able to help you more.

Tips to avoid slips and trips:

  • Stay warm to keep muscles relaxed, which can help to maintain your balance
  • Eat a well-balanced diet, to include Calcium and Vitamin D to aid bone strength
  • Make sure your footwear is in good condition, fits well, has strong fasteners, supports well, has sturdy soles with a good grip
  • Try to keep active as this will help to strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Secure loose rugs with tape or a slip resistant backing, use non-slip mats in your bath or shower, and remove objects and cables from walkways
  • Consider a shower seat rather than standing to shower
  • Ensure adequate lighting especially in hallways and on the stairs
  • Ensure adequate handrails and banisters are in place
  • Have a lamp at your bedside in case you need to get up during the night
  • Clean up spilt liquid straight away before it is left and forgotten about
  • Consider a medication review if this has not been done recently (ideally every 6 months) as some medications can increase the risk of falls due to their side effects
  • Get your eyes tested on a regular basis

For further advice from our Podiatrists or to book an appointment go to www.yorkpodiatry.co.uk.