Returning to Exercise After a Fall

Tips for Returning to Exercise After a Fall


            ‘Tis the season for sleet, freezing rain, and ice here in Northern Virginia. This means you may find yourself slip, sliding, and hitting the pavement. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

•    One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year.

•    Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.

•    Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.

•    In 2015, the total cost of fall injuries was $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.

            If you recently have suffered from a fall, the first priority is to get checked by a doctor. Just because you “feel fine” doesn’t mean it’s okay to skip this step. It’s much easier to address injuries that may have occurred immediately versus in the future. Additionally, you may not be aware of the extent of your injuries. Second priority is to follow those doctors’ orders. This may include resting, sessions with a physical therapist, or a home assessment to identity tripping hazards. Finally, make sure your doctor has cleared you to return to exercise before heading back to the gym or favorite exercise class.

            Weather related, or non-weather related, falling can have long lasting implications on our physical and mental health. Exercise that maintains muscle strength, bone density, and balance is key to recovering from a fall and preventing another fall from occurring. Once your doctor has given you the green light to exercise again, follow our 4 tips for returning to exercise.


1.          Give your body time to heal.

            If you have sustained a soft tissue injury (muscles, ligaments, tendons) it can take 6 weeks for those tissues to complete the “Sub-Acute Repairing Phase” where new tissue is being formed.  After the 6 weeks, additional repair work continues as you increase movement and activities. This “Remodeling Phase” can take from 6 weeks to 3 months. It’s very important that during these critical repairing periods, you are not engaging in exercise that is undermining the healing process. If you stress the tissues before they are fully healed you may re-injure the area, cause even more damage, increase compensation patterns, and/or need to sit out of activities for even longer. One of our sayings at AIM is that “The body is the best teacher of patience.” We understand how frustrating it is to not be better right this instance, but consider the big picture. This is just a short chapter in the novel of your life. Be patient. Let your body do its incredible job of healing.


2. Return to exercise s-l-o-w-l-y

            We recommend erring on the side of performing too little exercise versus too much. All it takes is one exercise, one set, or one workout to set you back weeks of good healing progress. There’s nothing worse than taking three steps forward in the gym, aggravating your injury, and ending up 10 steps back. If you focus on taking 1 step forward each day, there is a much better chance you won’t be taking any steps backwards.

             When you do return to the gym after a period of time away, it would not be logical to expect to pick up right where you left off. We suggest the 50% rule. Whatever weights you were lifting before that fall, cut it in half. Whatever amount of time you spent doing cardio, cut that time in half. If you notice you are achy, tight, or any swelling post workout, 50% is still too much and you need to cut back more. If instead you feel great after your workout, slowly begin adding a bit more weights or time over the course of the next few weeks. An appropriately progressed exercise program is key to slowly building back your strength without taking steps backwards.  This takes skill and knowledge so if you are unsure of how to gradually progress your workouts, this would be a great time to hire a personal trainer.

            A personal trainer can also help you address the issues from the fall. If you injured your hip, for example, you may need specific exercises to strengthen this area. Your doctor may have suggested adding in balance exercises to prevent a future fall. Again, if you are unsure what these exercises are and how to tailor them for your specific situation, that’s where a personal trainer can step in and be of assistance. 


3. Book a Muscle Activation Techniques™ session

            When a traumatic event occurs, such as a fall, muscles often become inhibited. This means that they are no longer able to do their job and contract. This can lead to a number of problems. If several muscles are not doing their job, this means other muscles will have to compensate and work overtime. This can lead to symptoms such as soreness, tightness, and pain. It’s vital after a fall to have your muscle system checked by an MAT™ practitioner who can make sure that all your muscles are firing and get rid of compensations. If compensations are not addressed, the original injury site may never fully heal.

            Additionally, an MAT™ practitioner may be able to uncover a muscle imbalance or weakness that may have contributed to the initial fall.  For example, if muscles in your feet are performing poorly, they may not be able to adjust to an uneven or slippery terrain. Instead of sensing and correcting accordingly, without strong feet muscles your balance will suffer and you’ll be more likely to fall again.  MAT™ can locate these problem muscles and correct them so next time, a slip doesn’t turn into a fall. 


4. Start preparing now to prevent future falls

            As stated above, it’s important to take proactive measures to prevent a fall from occurring again in the future. Once we hit our mid-30s, we begin to lose muscle mass and strength in a process called sarcopenia. Research has demonstrated repeatedly that people with weak or atrophied muscles are more prone to falling. Strong muscles keep us upright, help us react rapidly to changing conditions, and keep a trip from turning into a fall. Strong muscles are also the foundation of balance. Balance is your ability to keep your center of mass over your base of support. You must have strong feet, leg, hip, and trunk muscles in order to even start working on the skill portion of balance. Resistance training is the best way to maintain your muscle strength and amount. Here’s an additional bonus; when incorporating resistance training for your muscles, you are also simultaneously strengthening your bones which will help prevent bone loss, aka osteoporosis. If you’ve never lifted weights or have not done so for a long time, seek out a qualified personal trainer to help guide you. If you’re in the local area, come see one of our MAT™ Specialist and personal trainers to help you recover from a fall and prevent a future fall!