Personal Growth

Everybody Falls. Here's the Right Way to Do It

Whether you're an octogenarian with less-than-perfect balance or a twentysomething braving an icy commute, everybody falls at some point. While your first thought might be how silly you look flailing around as you hit the ground, falling is more than just embarrassing — it's extremely dangerous. But with the right preparation, you can keep your injuries to a minimum when it happens. And it will happen.

I Keep On Fallin'

You don't usually hear falling described as "extremely dangerous" — it's just an inevitable fact of life, after all — but there's no other way to describe it. Falls account for more than a third of injury-related emergency-room visits, or roughly 7.9 million a year. That's even more than for automobile accidents. For people aged 65 and older, it's even worse: 70 percent of all of their emergency room visits are for falls, and one in five of those falls causes a serious injury like head trauma or a broken bone. Overall, falls are the second leading cause of death from unintentional injuries, right behind car accidents.

There are all sorts of reasons you might fall: you could trip over an object, slip on something wet or icy, lose consciousness, or step wrong as a result of physical balance issues. No matter what the reason, it's not the fall that hurts — it's the collision with the ground. If you take time during the fall to position your body in a way that risks the least injury, you could walk away unscathed, or at least less injured than you would be otherwise.

How to Fall

Luckily, there are many occupations where falling correctly is a part of the job: police and firefighters, martial artists, stage actors, and stunt people all need to be able to fall again and again without hurting themselves. As a result, they've learned ways to do it. Here are a few tips:

  • Don't fight it. Young children fall constantly, yet they don't hurt themselves nearly as much as adults do in the process. One reason for that is that they lack the fear and embarrassment many older people have about falling, and are more relaxed as a result. If you accept the fact that you're falling, it's easier to relax your body and hit the ground with soft muscles and pliable joints, which are better suited to absorb the force.
  • Land on your fleshiest parts. Your butt is preferable to your hipbone; your stomach is preferable to your elbow. If you can adjust your body to land on the parts that will absorb the fall instead of break on impact, you'll be better off. Part of that involves turning your body as you fall, one part at a time in a gradual rolling motion. "Distribute the weight on the calf, thigh, into the glutes, rolling on the outside of your leg as opposed to falling straight back," Chuck Coyle, fight director at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, told Mosaic.
  • Tuck your head and don't use your hands to break your fall. Falls account for 60 percent of head injuries in older people, according to one estimate. Likewise, wrist and arm injuries from falls are so common in all ages that medical experts have a cute acronym for them: FOOSH, or "fall on outstretched hands." Of course, breaking an arm is much better than breaking a hip, but there's a way to fall to avoid both. If you fall forward, reaching forward can actually make you fall faster. "If we reach out, the job of that hand or that foot is not to stop us right away. It's to steer and to decelerate," Kevin Inouye, a stuntman and assistant professor of acting, movement and stage combat at the University of Wyoming, told NPR. If you fall backward, don't reach back with your hands or elbows. Instead, tuck your head into your chest and aim for the widest part of your back, breathing out as you hit the ground.
  • Take precautions. Prevention is the best medicine, as they say. At home, fix any areas that could pose a fall risk: replace loose carpet, mop up wet spots in the kitchen or tracked in near the front door, and ensure the shower floor is grippy enough to avoid slipping. When you're out and about, wear proper footwear for the weather, don't look at your phone while you're walking, and keep your hands out of your pockets when you can.
  • For more wise words from a daredevil, check out "The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman: My Life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroes" by Vic Armstrong. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity gets a share of the sale.

A Retired Police Lieutenant on How to Fall Correctly

Written by Ashley Hamer February 21, 2018

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