People in Pain at Risk for Falling
Falling down is more than a matter of getting up and dusting off. A fall can trigger an avalanche of health problems that occasionally lead to death or permanent disability. For this reason, fall prevention has become a top priority for healthcare providers and insurance companies. The first step towards prevention is risk assessment. Understanding who is at higher risk for falling down helps to create plans that can reduce the risk. One group of people at high risk for falling is those that experience pain.
People in pain are more likely to have difficulty walking and moving; thus, maintaining balance and recovering from a momentary stumble is more difficult than once upon a time when the reflexes were quick and the body was nimble. The older a person, the higher the fall risk largely because of painful conditions. Foot pain seems to generate the highest risk. The loss of stability and strength in the foot leads imbalance and immobility. Knee pain is also known to increase the risk of falls by up to 50%. In fact, people in pain are twice as likely to fall as people who are not in pain.
With the risk being so high, fall prevention becomes even more important in those that experience pain. A good prevention plan includes ways to improve balance and reduce hazards. Within a healthcare community, some organizations have ongoing balance classes as part of a global campaign to reduce the risk of falling. Such classes are designed to help improve balance through various strengthening and balance-challenging exercises. Other ways to improve balance include the use of assistive devices that help to maintain balance like walking sticks and walkers.
But better balance is not the only solution in a well thought out fall prevention plan. The elimination of hazards is equally important. Healthcare providers need to evaluate the chemical use and help to eliminate chemicals that can cause dizziness, slower reflexes and confusion. At home, loved ones need to help eliminate hazardous clutter that gets underfoot and causes one to trip. Rugs, pets, clothing and other tripping hazards are all things that can lead to a potentially deadly fall. Illuminating walkways is one of many ways to prevent falls at home.
Once balance improves and hazards are removed, a person in pain can feel more confident about moving around. The fear of falling often contributes to avoidance of activity. This fear can be eliminated by identifying the risk and taking the necessary steps to prevent falls from happening in the first place. Even though one may not be able to lead a pain-free life; at least one can lead a fall-free life.
Reference: Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014 Jan;95(1):175-187
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.