Falling down: Accept your fate and roll with it

Falling down: Accept your fate and roll with it is a very timely and helpful piece that appeared in
The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) on January 26, written by KATE MURPHY
KATHY OSBORN of the New York Times. It's a good 'heads up' for aging boomers and our elderly parents and other loved ones.


Rare is the individual who hasn’t tripped over a pet or uneven pavement, tumbled off a bike, slipped on ice or maybe wiped out skiing or skating.


Some get injured while others go unhurt – often claiming it’s because they knew how to fall.

According to a paratrooper, a stuntman and physical therapist, there is indeed a “right way” to fall, and it can save you a lot of grief if you know how to do it.


Although often associated with older people, falls occur at any age and are the most common cause of injury seen in emergency rooms in the United States.


“As physical therapists we talk a lot about preventing falls, but what we don’t talk about is what to do when you actually do fall,” said Dr. Jessica Schwartz, a physical therapist in New York who trains athletes and people with prosthetic limbs to fall without hurting themselves. “It’s almost inevitable you are going to fall, so you really should know what to do.”


The No. 1 thing to remember, she said, is to protect your head. So if you find yourself falling, pivot to your side and tuck in your head. “Have you seen those slip and fall cartoons where the characters fall flat on their back or face? Don’t do that,” said Schwartz. “You’ll hit your head like a coconut and get a concussion,” and the reverse motion, or bounce, of your head after impact “will give you something like whiplash.”


The other thing to avoid, she said, is “FOOSH,” an acronym for “falling onto outstretched hands.” If you do that, all the force of impact will be concentrated there, raising the risk of breaking your wrist. You similarly don’t want to come crashing down on your knee, so you break your kneecap or do that manoeuvre where you kind of pedal with your feet to catch yourself, which can lead to broken bones in your foot and ankle.


Instead, if you feel yourself falling, experts said you should bend your elbows and knees and try to take the hit on the fleshiest parts of your body, such as the side of your thigh, buttocks and shoulder.


“Aim for the meat, not bone,” said Kevin Inouye, a stuntman and assistant professor of acting, movement and stage combat at the University of Wyoming. “Your instinct will be to reach out with hands or try to catch yourself with your knee or foot, but they are hard and not forgiving when you go down.”


The key is to not fight the fall, but just to roll with it, as paratroopers do. “The idea is to orient your body to the ground, so when you hit, there’s a multistep process of hitting and shifting your body weight to break up that impact,” said Sergeant 1st Class Chuck Davidson, master trainer at the U.S. Army’s Advanced Airborne School at Fort Bragg, N.C.


Paratroopers’ goal is to fall sideways in the direction the wind is carrying them – in no way resisting the momentum of the fall. When the balls of their feet barely reach the ground, they immediately distribute the impact in rapid sequence up through the calf to the thigh and buttocks. Then they roll over on the latissimus dorsi muscle, the large, flat muscle running laterally down the side of your back, and kick their feet over, shifting their weight, so they end up supine with legs bent in front of them.


Experts say it’s important to relax as you fall. You’re less likely to hurt yourself if you soften up all your muscles and exhale.


Rigidity is your enemy while pliability is your friend. “As unfair as it is, that’s why people who are drunk” tend to be the ones who “don’t get hurt in car crashes,” Inouye said. “They are loose and just flop around.”