Did you know that falling is something that’s not supposed to happen? Falling due to imbalance may be a common occurrence for adults, but what’s natural is to be balanced at what is called our center of gravity. Understanding this concept is the key to falls prevention.
The Forces that Take Us Down
First, a bit of a science refresher. If you think back to grade school physics, you might recall learning about mass, weight, gravity, and inertia.
- Mass is all the physical material that makes up our bodies.
- Gravity is the force that pulls our mass downward.
- Weight is how we measure the effect of gravity on mass.
- Inertia is the tendency of an object in motion to keep going in the same direction.
Okay, so what is the “center of gravity?” Simply put, it’s the point around which the body’s mass is equally balanced.
You might call this an equal distribution of your weight around an imaginary point at which the effect of gravity and other forces, like inertia, on our mass is either stable or unstable. When it’s not at a stable point, we fall.
Where Our Center of Gravity Should Be
When human beings stand or move naturally, our center of gravity tends to be at our midsection, above the waist. Whatever the movement, our brains work with our bodies – our feet, arms, the muscles in our legs – to maintain this center point.
- If a tightrope walker begins to stumble, what’s really happening is that her center of gravity is shifting. To correct this, she might bend her knees to lower the center point to get it closer to her base of support, her feet.
- As a figure skater makes a sharp turn to the left, inertia threatens to throw his center of gravity to the right. He leans left to return the balance of his mass to the center, relative to the forces of gravity and inertia.
How does understanding this concept help you with fall prevention? Well, while it may not be as obvious in your daily life as it is for tightrope walkers and figure skaters, these forces are always at work on your body. And your fall risk increases when you behave as if they don’t.
When You Use a Walking Aid, Where Is Your Center of Gravity?
Most people don’t think about suffering mobility loss from a physics perspective. We tend to think of it in terms of an outward problem. We call it being unsteady on your feet. The obvious solution, it seems, is to grab onto something (a cane or walker) to get help from your hands.
Another way to look at it is to think of the problem as losing your ability to maintain your natural center of gravity without support. Thought of this way, traditional walking aids make a lot less sense.
The Danger of Shifting Away from Center
That’s because the human body is at its greatest risk for falls when the center of gravity shifts away from the center of mass, where it’s stable, to an unnatural point that is off-center.
Think of the tightrope walker. What will happen if her center of gravity is off-center and she doesn’t correct it?
Think of the figure skater. What will inevitably happen if his center point flies forward as he attempts to turn left?
Whenever you’re leaning away from your natural center of gravity toward your mobility device, you are perpetually in this precarious moment. You’re creating an unnatural center point.
What you think of as something that assists your balance is actually creating a state of constant imbalance.
To put it bluntly, it’s a fall waiting to happen.
Is it better than nothing? Of course. Canes and walkers help countless people stay on their feet. And the exercise you get while using them does contribute to increased flexibility and muscle development, which, in turn, help with balance and mobility.
One 2005 study of mobility device usage acknowledged these benefits but cautioned that there were risks as well:
“Recent studies have characterized some of the demands associated with using mobility aids and have identified specific situations in which use of a cane or walker can potentially jeopardize stability … Ultimately, we anticipate that such research may lead to more cautious clinical prescription practices, improved guidelines for using walkers and canes safely, and new and improved designs for safer and more effective mobility-aid devices.”
If your goal is to prevent falls, using a device that promotes an unstable center of gravity won’t accomplish it. It will, in fact, increase the likelihood of falling. The risk increases when you’re in motion (due to gravity) and even further when you change direction (due to inertia).
How to Return to Center
The solution to staying on your feet and preventing falls is a mobility aid that encourages you to walk as naturally as possible. That is, upright, with your center of gravity directly above your base of support (your lower body, primarily your feet) where it belongs.
There are modern mobility aids, the LifeGlider among them, that enable this for people who can stand but cannot maintain a natural, stable center of mass on their own.
What makes the LifeGlider unique is the combination of features that promote natural balance while preventing falls:
- A belt secures your waist, just where your center of gravity is at its most stable.
- The LifeGlider’s fall-safe legs and wheels are wide enough to supplement your natural base of support (unsteady feet).
- When you want additional support, you can grip handles at your sides, allowing you to keep your mass centered.
Using the LifeGlider retrains the body to maintain a stable center of mass. Unlike traditional walkers that encourage you to hunch over and lose core strength, the LifeGlider encourages the use of the core muscles your body uses to maintain balance naturally.
In other words, walking as closely to the way we are meant to walk, that is, as upright as possible, makes you more balanced, stable, and strong. That’s how to truly prevent falls.
Learn more about how the LifeGlider works and how it’s changed so many lives.