As the cold weather approaches we must start to think about slippery surfaces and doing what we can to prevent falls or slips on the ice. This can seem like a daunting task but it’s pretty simple. Most of our balance comes from our ankle and hip strength and mobility so by strengthening and stretching the muscles around those joints we can decrease our risk of a fall while increasing our ability to safely recover from a minor trip.
If you shift your weight forward or back outside of your base of support, you’ll notice you either come up on your toes or pull back on your heels. If we don’t have the ankle strength to correct it and we lose our balance further, we stick out our bottom or bring our hips forward. If we don’t have the hip strength, then we step quickly to catch ourselves.
Therefore the first thing to consider is ankle strength:
The easiest exercise to do for ankle strength can be done in sitting or standing: Heel and Toe raises. Shifting your weight into the ball of your foot to lift both heels from the ground, then shifting that weight backwards to lift the toes off the ground. If your balance is bad, start sitting and then progress to standing at a stable surface (like your kitchen counter) with both hands on it and eventually just one hand or a finger for safety.
Second is ankle mobility:
We must have the range of motion in our ankles to effectively shift weight and move our foot to catch us if needed, so the best stretch to accomplish this is a Calf stretch. Facing the wall with both hands on the wall place the foot you want to stretch behind you and press your heel to the ground. If you don’t feel a stretch in the back of the lower leg or knee, then either shift your weight forward or move your foot further back.
Then it’s on to the hip!
Hip strength is first:
This can be accomplished with a lot of exercises, but the simplest exercise is a Sit to Stand or a Squat: Place a chair behind you and try to stand up and sit back down slow and controlled without using your hands. If this is easy try to not sit all the way down and instead just get your bottom close to the chair and then squeeze your bum muscle and stand back up.
Another exercise you can do while lying down on your back is a Bridge: Bend your knees and pressing through your heels lift your tailbone first and slowly try to lift one spinal segment at a time as you bring your pelvis off the floor/bed.
The last exercise is to work on the lateral hip muscles: Hip side step: Standing at a stable surface step out to the side with one foot and then step back to the middle. If you have the stability and strength try it without placing your foot all the way down and just bring the leg to the side and back. You can gradually decrease the amount of weight you put through your hands progressing to just a finger hold on the countertop.
Last, but just as importantly: Hip mobility:
The number one stretch to make sure your hip can move is the: Piriformis stretch. The simplest way to accomplish this stretch is in a sitting position bring your ankle up onto the opposite thigh. Gently press your knee towards the ground. If you feel a mild stretch in your hip stop here, if not then you can further the stretch by leaning your body forward.
Incorporating these exercises into a weekly routine, just a few times a week, can make that difference in your comfort with walking and balance to keep you getting out a little more the next few months! If balance is something you really struggle with and it is impairing your walking, please consider seeing one of our physiotherapists or joining us for a Pilates class in which we address balance, strength and mobility!