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Elderly People Are Hip, Except When They Fall

Posted on: 02/21/2001
It's one thing to design prevention programs to help elderly people avoid a serious fall. It's another to figure out why some folks have have a greater risk of having such a fall. Knowing the root of the problem could help refine treatments and reduce the cost and suffering associated with falls.

Researchers used three-dimensional technology to see if hip tightness could be related to fall risk in the elderly. Healthy elderly people were compared to a group of peers who'd fallen at least twice in the previous year. The measurements were also compared to the scores of a group of healthy young people.

All subjects were analyzed while they walked at a comfortable pace. The two elderly groups were also scored as they walked quickly. Calculations were taken of how far the hip, knee, and ankle joints moved. Researchers saw the most difference in extension of the hip joint. (While walking, the hip extends when the leg is back.)

Hip extension angles stayed the same in the elderly subjects, even when they walked faster. This is significant, because it means their hips didn't extend nearly as far as younger subjects. Another major discovery was that hip extension was most limited in the elderly people who'd fallen in the past. Could this be a factor in why some elderly people are at risk falling? If it is, a stretching program to improve hip extension might lower the chances of an elderly person having a fall.

The authors suggest that future studies need to test whether a stretching program to help improve hip extension could help elderly people walk better and keep them from falling.

D. Casey Kerigan, MD, et al. Reduced Hip Extension During Walking: Healthy Elderly and Fallers Versus Young Adults. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. January 2001. Vol. 82. No. 1. Pp. 26-30.

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