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The New Science of Slips and Falls: What the Research Tells Us

The New Science of Slips and Falls: What the Research Tells Us

While we’ve all seen the old banana peel skit, slips and trips in the real world are no laughing matter. Simply falling to the floor or pavement from an upright position causes a great many serious injuries—and even deaths—each year. No one really knows for certain how many falls could actually be prevented, but the topic is of growing interest to a wide variety of people, from public health officials, designers, architects and community planners to business owners, workplace supervisors and employees. Senior citizens are perhaps the most at risk. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presents several statistics that highlight this point:

  • One out of three older adults (those aged 65 or older) falls each year, but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it.
  • Twenty to thirty percent of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, or head traumas. These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently, and increase the risk of early death.
  • Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. In 2010, about 21,700 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries. Over 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. In 2010, there were 258,000 hip fractures.
  • Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, which leads to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, and in turn increases their actual risk of falling.
  • In 2010, 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 662,000 of these patients were hospitalized. In 2010, the direct medical cost of falls, adjusted for inflation, was $30 billion.

Walking is a very complex activity, and science has only recently begun to understand the biomechanics involved. Shirley Wang wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Scientists are finding that maintaining stability and balance with each step we take requires complex coordination of foot placement, arm movement, trunk angle and neck and head motion.” At the same time, researchers are also learning how other factors like sloping, uneven or slippery surfaces and obstructions come into play. There are many variables to consider. Even when the body’s movements are perfectly coordinated, small things about environment can still foil our best efforts to remain upright.

We know from nervous system studies that the body is capable of reacting within milliseconds. Science has shown that a person’s balance is maintained by simultaneous feedback from the body’s visual system, proprioceptive system and inner ear. If one of these systems becomes less efficient or fails altogether, then the other two can usually compensate to keep us balanced. If two fail, then balance becomes far more difficult. Aging frequently leads to poorer eyesight and troubles with the inner ear, so it’s small wonder that seniors are more likely to fall.

Canadian researchers at Simon Fraser University used video cameras in a long-term care facility to see if seniors were right about “tripping” or “slipping” being the reasons for their falls. What they found was surprising. Tripping actually accounted for only 20% of events. The nearly 3-year study of 227 falls involving 130 people showed that the single largest cause (41%) was from improper weight shifting, such as leaning over too far. This seems to indicate a failure in the seniors’ proprioceptive system.

There are a few ways you can help to prevent slips and falls. Be sure to keep walkways clear of clutter, and consider adding non-skid material to flooring—especially to floors that are more likely to become wet. Maintaining your strength helps too. Upper body strength is particularly important for catching yourself before or during a fall. Even when there’s nothing to grab onto, having the sort of upper body strength that helps you to do push-ups can soften the blow to more sensitive parts of the body. Reaching out with hands and flexing elbows upon impact can slow the fall or stop it altogether. The late Jack LaLanne, fitness guru, was still doing fingertip pushups at age 93. Don’t say it can’t be done!

Balance requires that every part of the body works well together. Dr. Oblander can help you maintain this balance by ensuring you have a healthy spine and nervous system.  He can also recommend specific exercises that maintain or increase your upper body strength.  So if you or someone you care about is interested in avoiding slips and falls, we can help you take advantage of the latest research!  Just call or visit our office today: 406-652-3553!

 

To Stay Healthy this Fall and Winter? Wash Your Hands! The Simplest Way

To Stay Healthy this Fall and Winter? Wash Your Hands! The Simplest Way

As summer turns to fall, lots of people (children and adults alike) will be spending more time inside and in closer proximity to one-another. Washing your hands is something simple we can all do to keep our schools, workplaces and homes just a little bit healthier. In fact, it’s actually been identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

But researchers at Michigan State University recently found that only about 1 person in 20 actually washes his or her hands properly in even the most obvious hand washing scenario—after using a public restroom. According to a summary by writer Lindsay Abrams of the Atlantic:

“Of 3,749 people observed leaving the bathrooms, 66.9 percent used soap, while 10.3 percent didn’t wash their hands at all. The other 23 percent of people stopped at wetting their hands, in what the researchers, for some reason, call “attempted washing” (as if maybe those people just weren’t sure how to follow through). Although the researchers generously counted the combined time spent washing, rubbing, and rinsing, only 5.3 percent of people spent 15 seconds or longer doing so, thus fulfilling the requirements of proper handwashing. They average time spent was 6 seconds.

Why Hand Washing?

Bacterial and viral infections can be spread when the hands come into contact with infectious respiratory secretions and carry them elsewhere. This happens most often as a result of someone coughing, sneezing, shaking hands, or touching an object that has been in the proximity of a sick person and then touching the face—particularly the nose, mouth or eyes. This is one of the primary ways of transmitting the virus that causes the common cold.

Washing your hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper is of utmost importance, as the ingestion of even the smallest amount of fecal matter can cause serious illness from deadly pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, giardiasis and hepatitis A, among others. You should also be particularly careful about washing your hands after touching garbage, handling animals or animal waste, visiting or caring for an ill person, or if your hands show visible dirt.

Those who handle food should routinely wash their hands, not only after using the toilet, but also after touching raw meat, fish or poultry, since the microbes present on uncooked food can cause gastrointestinal infections ranging from mild to severe or even life-threatening.

Perhaps those with the greatest need to wash their hands on a regular basis are healthcare workers. Because they’re constantly exposed to sick patients and patients with weakened immune systems, and since they frequently come into contact with contaminated surfaces, these professionals have a special responsibility. Before the importance of hand washing was widely understood within the healthcare community, millions of people became sick or died from infections passed along on the hands of their caregivers. During the 19th century, up to 25% of women died in childbirth from childbed fever (puerperal sepsis), a disease subsequently found to be caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes. After hand washing was introduced as a standard practice in the delivery room, the rate of death dropped to less than 1%.

It All Begins With Hand Awareness

Here are the “4 Principles of Hand Awareness”:

  1. Wash your hands when they are dirty and BEFORE eating
  2. DO NOT cough into your hands
  3. DO NOT sneeze into your hands
  4. Above all, DO NOT put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth

How to Wash Your Hands the Right Way

To wash your hands properly, you need only two things: soap and clean, running water. If these two things are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has a minimum 60% alcohol content.

Before washing your hands, remove all rings and other jewelry. Using running water, wet your hands thoroughly, then apply enough soap to work up a nice lather. Keeping your hands out of the water, rub them together, being sure to scrub both the front and backs of your hands, including your wrists, and also washing between the fingers and under the nails. Do this for 20 seconds, then rinse completely under the running water. Be sure to turn off the taps with a paper towel rather than your bare hand. According to the CDC, the whole process should take about as much time as singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

But What About Drying?

The Mayo Clinic recently published its own comprehensive review and analysis of every known hand washing-related study produced since 1970. Interestingly, their researchers found that drying hands was a key part of preventing the spread of bacteria. They also concluded that paper towels are better than blowers for this purpose. Here’s some of their reasoning:

  • Most people prefer paper towels to blowers, so they’re more likely to use them.
  • Blowers take too long, encouraging people to wipe their newly-cleaned hands on dirty pants or to skip the step altogether.
  • It takes less energy to manufacture a paper towel than it does to dry hands with a blower.
  • Blowers dry out the skin on your hands.
  • Blowers scatter bacteria three to six feet from the device.

As chiropractic physicians, we have a special interest in helping our patients (and non-patients, for that matter) avoid illness and injury. This means helping them develop healthy lifestyle habits—like regular hand washing—that prevent disease. We also work closely with them in areas like diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. If you’d like to learn more about what we can do to help you stay healthy and live your life to its fullest, please call or visit our office today!

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Tips and Precautions for Winter Exercise

Tips and Precautions for Winter Exercise

cold-weather-jogging-200-300For many people, colder temperatures outside—whether at home or while traveling over the winter holidays—can mean big changes in exercise routines. Some will move their workouts indoors or hibernate during the winter months. Others, though, will decide to work with the seasons and find ways to be active outside. If you’re one of those people, this article is for you.

While there’s certainly no rule against venturing out into the cold for a little bit of exercise, it’s important to be smart about how you do it. Remember to protect yourself from frostbite, hypothermia, and injuries that can come with freezing temperatures. To help you do that, we’ve put together a short checklist that you can use to exercise outdoors safely this winter.

Remember that Cold Weather is Often Dry Weather. Winter weather is often associated with precipitation. However, as the temperatures drop to dangerous lows—close to freezing and below—the opposite is often true regarding humidity. The air will get drier, and even if you don’t sweat as much, you can still lose valuable moisture. When exercising in the cold weather, remember to drink plenty of water, even if you don’t really feel thirsty or sweaty.

Understand the Real Temperature Where You Plan to Exercise. Look up the weather on a website or app before you head out into the cold, but understand the numbers you are looking at. The general weather conditions can differ greatly from place to place locally, even in the same region. Pay especially close attention to wind chill numbers, since the combination of wind and your own movement may lead you to experience lower temperatures. The thermometer may say it’s 35 degrees out, but the wind chill may mean it feels closer to 20 degrees in certain areas.

Dress Appropriately. It may be tempting to bundle up when going out in the cold to work out, but this comes at a cost. Thick, warm clothes will make you sweat more easily, and that sweat can leach heat from your body and allow your temperature to drop to unhealthy levels. The key, as cold weather experts know well, is to dress in layers, starting with a thin synthetic layer of wicking material, then a fleece and finally a thinner waterproof coat. The added benefit to this clothing strategy is that it’s flexible. You can always take off layers if you get too hot.

Warm Up the Extremities. When exercising in the cold weather, pay particular attention to your extremities, which are more vulnerable to frostbite. It’s especially important to cover your fingers and head. If the air is very frigid, cover up your nose and mouth, too: That cold air can damage your lungs and freeze your nose.

Fuel Up. A source of energy is vital to keeping up your metabolism and keeping you warm when out in the cold. Eat a healthy amount of complex carbs and proteins before you go out, and if you’re going to be out for a few hours, then bring a snack along, too. Stay away from sugars and other less dependable sources of energy, if possible.

Start Slow. Stretching and warming up will both make injury less likely and help your metabolism pick up until you are ready for more strenuous work. Always warm up before going out into the winter weather, particularly if you are planning on an intense session with lots of running or heavy exertion. Otherwise, joint and muscle injuries could result.

Know the Danger Signs. Hypothermia and frostbite can creep up on you if you’re not careful. You can defend against the cold better if you recognize the signs. Frostbite occurs on exposed skin like your cheeks, nose, ears, and hands, especially below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia occurs when shivering cannot keep up your core body temperature and your heart and brain begin to shut down. Watch for intense shivering, sudden weariness, slurred words, and trouble with coordination.

Billings and our surrounding areas have had lots of severe cold and snow thus far this winter; be sure to be smart about going outside and take care of your health!

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