The fundamentals of walking, gravity, balance and falling.
Sometimes through accident, surgery, one sided sports habits, or wear and tear, but often through poor posture control, people make adaptions to their walking gait, the casualty of this adaption is the inability to structurally integrate their body as they move.
As people start to lose their ability to structurally integrate their body they are less able to hold their centre of mass and centre of balance together. This presents a real problem, if you perceive that your centre of balance is not under your control you start to fear you will fall and so you start making further compensations and adaptions to avoid that falling feeling.
One adaption: the short step shuffle
One adaption is to take smaller steps so the build-up of forward kinetic energy generated by walking is minimised and the fear of falling brought on by your travelling centre of balance, is kept with safe limits. This is characterised by a heavy impact and short stop into the landing step.
The short step is often the first of the adaptions, this shortened step shuffle and impact landing greatly interferes with the dynamic momentum of walking, and is often the start of imbalance. Sadly, most people don’t recognise this as step on the slippery slope. No pun intended.
Another adaption: the sideways shuffle.
As you lose the ability to maintain the structural integrity needed to hold your centre of mass on your standing foot, sometime triggered by the short step shuffle, other times separately, your centre of balance begins to be drawn out of your centre of mass as soon as you start to lift your foot. You quite literally fall sideways towards the new forward foot, hoping it’s going to be there!
Not only that but your centre of mass also travels from one side of your body to the other and has to land and stabilise in your front foot. This weight-transfer-wobble from one side to the other is a common sight in older people, and for most it has come on gradually and they haven’t realised how it developed.
It’s because they can no longer hold their centre of balance with their centre of mass, and rather than explore the problem, most choose to adapt further around it to keep on walking. The realisation that you are having age related walking problems is worrying, sadly the usual response is of self denial “I am still independent and don’t need any help, thank you” and the to push on withfurther adaptions.
Another adaption: the looking downwards.
When you have lost the natural ease and momentum of walking, when you have lost your ability to hold your centre of balance with your centre of mass, then you become uncertain of your ability to walk safely.
A further adaption is to start to focus your attention on the very function of walking itself, and it becomes natural to look down and check on any potential problems, uneven ground etc. This brings the act of dynamic walking down to a set of static movements that are simply repeated and further interferes with the dynamic momentum of walking.
Another adaption: the leaning forward and the need for a stick or frame.
As a fear of falling begins to take hold, safely is sought in three or four points of contact, three or four centre of mass, this stops the problem of having to hold structural integrity when you lift a foot and also holds the centre of balance centrally between all three (or four) points of contact so stops the need to have control over dynamic motion.
Leaning your body mass forward so it rests on the forward contact points, and taking the body forward so the centre of balance can remain in the centre of those four points is the final adaption. To begin with the steps are using alternate legs, later the favourite leg leads and the other follows.
Without the ability to hold your structural integrity on one leg you lose the ability to hold your centre of balance with your centre of mass. That is your centre of balance is no longer under your control.
Without the practice of transferring your centre of mass safely and dynamically onto your front leg as you walk, you lose the ability for that leg to engage, stabilise absorb energy and remain strong.
Without the ability to control your centre of balance and without the certainty your legs will hold your weight, your fear of falling is huge. The more nervous you are the more likely you are to lose balance, or your legs to give way. Suddenly the statistics that 1 in every 3 people over 65 will fall in any year don’t seem so surprising. Of those who do fall 1 in 5 ******will never walk unaided again. However, all falls, whether with or without injury, have a real impact on people’s quality of life.
Most older adults have a fear of falling and, as a result, reduce their activities and social engagements with friends. This starts the downwards decline of their health, a reduction of walking on a daily basis, of everyday movement, often leading to a feeling of helplessness, social isolation and depression.
The way to re-establish your balance is by learning and practicing:
- How to structurally connect up your body when your weight is on one leg.
- How to release that structural integration in a smooth and controlled manner
- How to develop the ability to transfer weight from one centre of mass to another, that is from one leg to another.
- How to absorb and stabilize your body’s mass into each leg.
- How to store that kinetic energy and release it into a rolling efficient step