– Gramos Pallaska, PT, DPT, FAFS, CEAS
Falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits in the United States, accounting for about eight million trips to the ER every year. Of these, one million are slip-and-fall accidents.
Slipping and falling can have serious consequences, causing broken bones, head trauma and other injuries. Luckily, physical therapy is an option for helping people recover after a slip-and-fall accident.
Common Injuries Caused by Slip-and-Fall Accidents
When you slip and fall, the typical tendency is to reach out and brace yourself with an arm. For this reason, many people end up landing on (and injuring) a shoulder, elbow or wrist. Hip injuries are also quite common after slipping and falling, especially among the elderly. Over 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures every year, and more than 95% of those fractures are caused by falling.
Other areas frequently injured during slip-and-fall accidents include the lower back and neck. Concussions or even traumatic brain injuries may also occur as a result of slipping and falling.
Because so many different types of injury can be caused by slip-and-fall accidents — to varying degrees of severity — a physical therapy evaluation can be very helpful for figuring out exactly what went wrong, and developing the right plan for recovery.
Designing a Physical Therapy Care Plan for Slip-and-Fall Patients
The first step of physical therapy after a slip-and-fall is a thorough assessment, including detailed questions about the accident. Some questions a patient might be asked are:
- Was it a slippery surface or did they trip over something?
- Was it going up or down stairs?
- Which side did they fall on?
- What happened immediately after the fall?
- Did they lose consciousness?
- Were they able to get up on their own?
- Did they need emergency medical help?
- What was the follow-up care immediately after that?
- Have they had any imaging in the meantime?
After gathering as much information as possible about the fall, the next step is to test all the body systems and check for concussion. Once a patient’s baseline has been established, the therapist can set goals that include rehabilitation steps for injuries such as a fracture or ligament tear. Everything is captured in one comprehensive care plan.
What Does Physical Therapy Look Like for Slip-and-Fall Patients?
Every slip-and-fall patient’s physical therapy care plan will look different, depending on their unique circumstances. It may include stability and balance training — challenging them with obstacles that mimic real-life situations to help prevent future falls. If a person is dealing with an injury, their care plan will involve exercises to restore range of motion and strengthen the muscles that surround the injured area.
One thing all physical therapy care plans for slip-and-fall patients have in common? They require a patient’s willingness to continue the program at home to work properly. Continuing the exercises you learned in physical therapy on your own at home is key to recovery.
Preventing Slip-and-Fall Injuries
Slip-and-fall accidents may seem inevitable, but there are things you can do to lessen your chances. For those who live in cold climates where winter means snow and ice, keeping sidewalks shoveled and salted can make a huge difference. It’s also important to be aware of your surroundings in wintry conditions, avoiding treacherous areas when you can and taking small, careful steps when you can’t.
There’s also much you can do to prevent falls inside. Clearing away or securing tripping hazards such as clutter, cords and rugs can minimize your risk of these types of accidents at home.
If you’ve had an accident like this in the past, consider proactively seeking out physical therapy. Addressing any issues with balance or muscle weakness can help make sure you don’t fall again with potentially worse injuries and consequences.