It’s safe to assume that each of us will experience some type of fall in our lifetime. Every fall impacts body function, movement, mechanics, and efficiency.
Different types of falls injure the body in distinct ways. Once you understand the mechanism behind a fall you can predict what areas of the body will typically be prone to pain. Forward falls onto an outstretched hand can cause injury to your wrist, elbow, and shoulder. However, the impact force travels up the arm and exits in the cervical spine (neck) and thoracic spine (upper back) similar to a whiplash type injury. Residual delayed symptoms may appear, which include headaches, neck pain, muscle spasm, tingling or numbness in the arm, and pain between the shoulder blades. Backward falls on the buttocks cause trauma to the spine, pelvis, hips, and head. Concussions are extremely common in backward types of falls due to the sudden whipping motion of the head. The tailbone portion of the spine is often bruised or fractured from impact velocity of the backwards fall. The energy transfer through the spine exits at the top of the head leading many people to complain of severe headaches and neck pain. Severe symptoms might not appear for several days or weeks following the fall. Falls from a height landing on the feet may injure the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, and spine. Hairline fractures are often a side effect of foot landing falls, particularly in the shin bone and pelvis.Lower back pain is the most common spinal complaint after a foot landing fall due to the compressive forces of the impact.
All falls cause mechanical and functional damage to the body leading to inefficient movement and compensations. These neurological compensations are part of your nervous systems hardwired survival mechanism to avoid pain at all cost by taking the path of least resistance. This mechanism involves adaptation of muscles, connective tissue (fascia), bones, joints, ligaments, and nerves. Postural changes are ingrained in your movement patterns to protect and guard you from future injury.Common chronic side effects from traumatic falls include; arthritis, muscle spasm and tightness, soreness, spinal disc degeneration, disc herniations, and visual postural distortions. You may notice one shoulder becomes higher than another, rounded shoulders, neck far out over the shoulders, hips become tight and you walk with a foot flare. These dysfunctional movement patterns manifest into pain and injury years after the trauma. Everything in your health history contributes to the possibility of future injury. Even that fall you had off the swing on the playground when you were a kid.
So what can and should you do after a fall to help minimize injury? First and foremost is to determine the seriousness of the injury. If severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, slurred speech or sleepiness are present immediately seek emergency medical attention for these are common sign of a concussion(impact injury to the brain). Anticipate the onset of symptoms in the next several days following a fall. For swelling, inflammation, and muscle spasm apply ice for the first 72 hours. Heat is best used for chronic injuries and over muscles. Ice tends to be a more effective alternative for joint related pain to reduce swelling.
Pain is the warning signal from your body that something is wrong. Do not ignore the pain message and hope things resolve without professional intervention. It is essential to visit a skilled clinician in manual therapy such as a chiropractor to ensure proper alignment of the spine and joint systems of the body. A doctor of chiropractic is an expert in assessment and treatment of acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries with programs of preventive medicine
Chiropractors will work in conjunction with your primary healthcare provider to ensure you receive the most effective care program for your type of injury. Once pain symptoms have improved your chiropractor will put you on a corrective exercise program involving strengthening and stretching for balance. This will train your body with proprioception (balance) to help improve your chances of catching yourself before falling in the future.
Stay aware of your surroundings, especially your footing. Try to keep your hands free for balance and rest if you are getting tired from being on your feet too long.
Stay active, but be careful.