Fall Prevention

How Aging Changes the Way We Maintain Balance

By Nicole R October 1, 2019 No Comments

There are four (4) methods that are used to keep one’s balance: ankles, knees, hips and steppage. Before getting into the methods of balance you must first understand THE CONE OF STABILITY. Basically, your body moves and keeps its balance inside a “cone”. When the body moves outside the safe zone people fall. The “cone of stability” shrinks as people age which leads to fear of moving. People forget how to move in big and normal movements. So, as they age they transition to different techniques to keep their balance.

Younger Aged: The ANKLES are relied upon for balance when younger. These corrections are small, constant and automatic movement. Most people do not notice the movements in their ankles. Balance is accomplished when there is equal pressure on the entire foot (toes to heel). Relying on the ankles is the most reliable method and places a person at the lowest risk of falls.

Seniors become very aware of their ankles movements and become fearful of them. They think the corrections are actually instability and will cause them to fall. This is the opposite of the truth. Ankles should be used to keep one’s balance.

Middle Aged: The KNEES become the main source of balance when middle aged. The ankles are still used to keep balance, but the knees become a secondary technique. A small bend in the knees is a common sign that the knees are being used for balance. Knees control forward and backward movements. The knees are triggered because the ankles can’t/don’t engage and are used to correct balance. Relying on knees for balance slightly increases risk of falls.

Seniors who stand or walk with their knees bent are utilizing their knees as their main balance technique.

Seniors: HIPS and STEPPAGE strategy are the most common techniques used. The HIPS take over when larger corrections are required to keep one’s balance. This is because the ankles and knees can’t/don’t engage, or the correction needed is more than the knees and ankles can provide to keep one’s balance. The hips focus on side to side movements. If using a hip strategy, the individual will be at a high risk of falls.

Seniors using walkers typically utilize this technique.

The STEPPAGE strategy is used as a last resort by seniors to keep from falling. It is used when the ankles, knees, and hips don’t work. Therefore, an individual takes a step to keep their balance. If a person relies only on this technique, they are at a very high risk of falls.

Everyone can improve their balance regardless of their age or diagnosis. It is essential to improve leg strength and practice moving in large movements without support. Retraining the body is needed so that ankles and knees become the primary balance technique.