Falling in Winter and Why the Gait Cycle Plays An Important Role
Why do we fall in winter? The answer seems so simple — different forms of frozen water! Ice and snow are by far the biggest reasons for falling in winter. But why do 20-year-olds seemingly run on ice and snow fine, while people past age 55 seem to have issues getting around at a much slower speed.
Main issue: Balance
What is Balance?
Balance is defined as an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. Balance is the main reason we don’t feel steady on ice and snow, and balance issues can be narrowed down to mechanical issues or neurological issues.
Our inner ear holds a mechanism that tells us which way is up, which way is down and which way is all around. This mechanism is called the vestibular system and can be compromised by certain diseases that cause vertigo and throws us off balance. Our eyes also send important visual input to our brain to level us to the horizon and play a big role in our balance.
Our Cerebellum (a lobe of our brain) is tasked with computing and regulating balance and coordination. Degenerative changes in the cerebellum can cause issues with our balance. Diseases like M.S. (multiple sclerosis), Parkinson’s, alcohol abuse, tumors, and strokes all can have a negative impact on our cerebellum and balance.
How It Works
Our nerves connect our brain to our body and any interruption in our nerves can cause balance issues. The peripheral nervous system allows our body to take in stimulus from the outside world and transfer it into nerve impulses that are read by the cerebellum. Things like spatial awareness, muscle movement, and pressure all paint a comprehensive picture for our brain to read and react.
Injuries to the Peripheral Nervous System
We can have injuries to the peripheral nervous system like a pinched nerve, hitting our funny bones, or having our hand fall asleep. These are relatively small injuries compared to having a peripheral nerve transected or cut which take months to years to recover from. The more damage or prolonged damage to a peripheral nerve will cause a decrease in the function of that nerve and can lead to chronic issues. The peripheral nervous system can recover from certain injuries and this ability to recover marks a big difference between peripheral nervous system (PNS) and the central nervous system (CNS).
Injuries to the Central Nervous System
The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and spinal cord and when a nerve is damaged it is permanently damaged. Spinal cord injuries stop the connection from the peripheral nerves to the central nervous system and do not allow the body to leave feedback for the brain, and vice versa.
Whew! Now that we have a foundation of understanding behind the main function of slipping and falling I want to dig into a less known but very important issue on winter falls.
Proper Gait cycle starts with a heel strike (stance) as your body moves forward your foot goes flat (stance), then further into mid stance (stance) and then push off faze (stance). The opposite side of the body goes through what is called the swing stages starting with the toes pushing off (stance), acceleration (swing), mid swing (swing), deceleration (swing), heel strike (stance).
Effects of Injuries
Injuries or chronic conditions can easily impact the proper gait cycle and leave us slipping and falling. It is important to note that an injured leg will go through the gait cycle at an accelerated, shortened stride. When a condition gets really bad we start to skip positions in the gait cycle that compromise our balance further. When we compromise away from a bad hip, knee, or ankle we put more pressure on the good leg. That compromise can lead to an uneven split of weight on each leg from 49%-51% to 30%-70%. Once we start slipping our bad leg isn’t healthy enough to catch all of our body weight. This makes the stakes that much higher when standing on a slick surface.
With over 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain, we can agree that there are at least a few that reside in this winter wonderland we call Wisconsin. As the snow falls and the ice builds, many of us will slip. Some injuries will be minor, and some will be major. If you yourself are reading this and are one of the people struggling with balance and/or gait issues from pain, or another underlying condition, schedule a no-cost consultation today with Green Bay’s Top Rated Local® chiropractor at Midwest Pain Solutions. Call 920-569-2350 or visit www.midwestpainsolutions.com.
Midwest Pain Solutions offers chronic pain solutions through chiropractic adjustments, high intensity laser therapy (HILT), and other treatments. We pioneered the use of HILT and have a 30-year legacy of excellence that has allowed us to serve Green Bay — including our players of the Green and Gold. We believe in addressing the root cause of pain and helping our patients find solutions and, if possible, avoid chronic pain altogether. Learn more about our family-owned-and-operated practice and schedule a free consultation today!