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Seniors: Know How to Rise Safely After a Fall

Sep 2008

Written by Christina Lavender
Photography by Brian M. Freer

Muscle loss due to aging can make getting up from the floor a struggle.

The ability to rise from the floor is a physical task we often take for granted. However, as we age this task can become much more difficult or even impossible. The inability to rise from the floor is a warning sign that muscle loss has occurred. Although an overall decline in muscle mass can be a normal consequence of aging, the generalized loss of skeletal muscle (a phenomenon called sarcopenia) can be minimized, and even reversed, through the proper physical conditioning program.

It is essential for an older adult to be confident in his or her ability to rise from the floor; otherwise, the individual's quality of life and independence may be compromised. For example, seniors may avoid sitting in a bathtub or sitting on the floor to play with grandchildren because they fear they will not be able to stand up again. Studies have shown that rising to an erect stance creates greater torque around the knee joint and pressure at the hip joint than activities such as walking and stair climbing.

The most common method of rising from the floor begins with the individual either lying flat on his or her back or stomach. Most people attempt to sit up by moving their torso forward, but if your abdominals and arms are weak, this method of rising becomes impossible.

Instead, you should roll over onto your side, keeping a slight forward bend in the spine. With knees and hips flexed (knees pulled toward the chest), place your hands flat on the floor, using the triceps (the backs of the upper arms) to push up and roll over onto all fours and then into a kneeling position.

By then curling the toes under, with the ankles in a flexed position, you can sit back onto your heels into a crouching stance.

During the final phase of the movement, the extension phase, you can move upward over the base of support while carefully maintaining your balance. Your knees should remain soft as you uncurl the spine one vertebra at a time.

This phase ends when you are standing erect with all body parts, including the palms of the hands, facing forward. The feet are just slightly separated and the arms hang relaxed at the sides.

Rising to standing position takes balance, strength, flexibility and full-body coordination; and the key to getting up from the floor lies in the ability to combine these skills. The technique of recovering from a fall should be practiced as a lifetime skill. The photos, right, illustrate the proper rising technique.

Christina Lavender is a certified personal trainer through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America as well as a certified older adult trainer. She specializes in functional movement and balance training for the mature adult. She is pursuing her Master of Science degree with a double concentration in geriatric exercise science and corrective exercise for all ages.