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Falls and Osteoarthritis

Falls are a risk for elderly people – especially for people over age 65 who suffer from osteoarthritis in their joints. Accidental falls can lead to a serious fracture, which may lead to loss of independence or the need for surgery.

The increased risk of falling in people with osteoarthritis is due to a number of reasons:

  1. Chronic pain: People with osteoarthritis in their hips or knees suffer from day-to-day pain that often leaves them unable to walk long distances without assistance or perform daily tasks.
  2. Weak muscles and imbalance: Osteoarthritis not only causes pain, but it also weakens muscles and impairs balance, which increases one’s risk of falling. When people develop osteoarthritis in a hip or knee, they often change their gait in order to avoid pain. This causes instability in other areas as they move. For example, patients with unilateral hip arthritis tend to tilt their pelvis downwards on the opposite side, which shifts the center of gravity to the unaffected side. The imbalance can easily cause people to misstep or trip over themselves.
  3. Lack of exercise/Obesity: Because of the pain and muscle imbalance, people with osteoarthritis usually do not exercise often. Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle increases people’s risk of falling because their muscles are weaker and their joints stiffer. Increased body weight as a result of a sedentary lifestyle makes osteoarthritis much more painful. This therefore increases one’s risk of complications.
  4. Some prescriptions/pain medications: Some prescriptions for other chronic health issues, including anti-depressants, lower blood pressure, which can often cause dizziness. Some medical researchers believe that heavy use of pain medications increase a person’s risk of falling.

Preventing Falls

Although it’s impossible to entirely prevent the risk of falling as you age, there are some simple things you can do to make falling less likely.

Standard exercise methods can often be very painful or difficult for people with osteoarthritis. So, it’s important to reduce stress to your body and find low-impact exercises that build strength and balance.

Aquatic exercise is one terrific way to strengthen your muscles and reduce your risk of falling. Many water aerobics classes teach you how to use good biomechanics when you are doing activities at home.

Physical therapy to strengthen targeted areas is another great way to build strength and balance.

One simple way to prevent falling is to make sure your home is a safe environment. Move electrical cords out of your walking pathways, eliminate loose or frayed rugs, and make sure to keep stairways secure. You may even wish to get a raised toilet seat.

If you are concerned about any risks you suffer from or want to know more about osteoarthritis, call our office at 317.455.1064.

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