When I read about this breakthrough I knew I wanted to let my patients know about it right away.
I’ve seen too many people in their seventies and eighties – sometimes even in their sixties – experience a rapid loss of quality of life because of a fall.
About twelve years ago I participated in a community education program on preventing fragility fractures. My colleague Patricia Graham, MD who organized it was a physiatrist who took a particular interest in that topic because of the huge health toll caused by fragility fractures.
One side of the equation that we covered in our presentation was maintaining bone density.
But an even more important step to prevent fragility fractures is improving balance and physical fitness to avoid falling in the first place.
Bones don’t fracture by themselves. Even thinning bones, in people with osteopenia or osteoporosis, don’t frequently fracture spontaneously without some physical trauma that overloads them. If you don’t fall, your bones don’t break.
Twelve years ago we understood this principle in general: physical fitness focusing on strength and balance is essential. Now we know even more. Scientists have discovered the exact muscle weaknesses that increase the risk of falling.
It turns out that one of the most important predictors of fall risk is toe strength.
Whenever you lean forward, get out of a chair, or reach for something in front of you, the muscles that flex your toes have the important responsibility of controlling your body’s weight shift so you don’t fall flat on your face.
Seniors who fall have on average 20% less strength in their toe flexors than seniors who don’t fall. Meanwhile, the strength of other muscle groups, such as the Achilles muscles, the quadriceps, and so forth, were indistinguishable between the two groups.
Here’s the exercise you can use to strengthen those important toes flexors. (I borrowed this image from an article by Dr. Tom Michaud in Dynamic Chiropractic.)
When performing this exercise, stand near a table top or wall so you can catch your balance if need be. Hold the forward lean position for 5 seconds. Then press down with your toes to return your trunk to vertical. Repeat the exercise for twenty reps.
Perform this exercise each day and you’re sure to strengthen your toe muscles and reduce your risk of falling significantly.
For a more comprehensive fall prevention program, call to schedule an appointment and I’ll review this exercise with you, along with more advanced versions, and I’ll share with you other exercises to improve balance and prevent fall risk.
You can call me at 212-400-9663 or 609-497-1944.
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