Falling down without injury
December 19, 2011 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I am very, very clumsy. I stumble, bump into things, trip, and actually fall with frequency. Accepting that, can you teach me best practices for falling with minimal injury to myself?

Here are some scenarios that happen fairly often:

1) Going up stairs. Miss a step; stumble, fall like a felled tree and smack my chin on a stair further up. Or going down stairs, miss a step or two (usually close to the bottom, thank goodness) and stumble the rest of the way, hitting the floor hard (oh, my aching knees and hips).

2) Misjudge distance as I round a corner or make my way around an obstacle; slam some part of my body into a wall or table or something, ricochet off it stiffly and usually end up falling down as a result.

3) Just walking along or while running, I'll put my weight down wrong and go down on an ankle, or catch a toe on a raised bit of sidewalk. Back and forth teetering with comical hand waving for a moment, then fall on my ass, or worse yet, on my outstretched, stiff wrists.

I tend to react to bad balance situations with panic and stiff, locked joints. I read once that falling with a looser body is much less damaging, but I don't know how to get better at this. Do you have tips or tricks, maybe gleaned from sports or martial arts or something? Or suggestions for becoming less prone to clumsiness? I don't know. I'm just really tired of spraining my wrists and skinning my knees like a 12-year-old.
posted by peachfuzz to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
First- get your eyes and inner ear checked out. barring those issues-
Coordination is fairly innate and immutable, at a certain point in life, from what I've read, but muscle memory and reaction time can be worked on to some marginal degree. Martial arts absolutely will teach you the 'correct' way to fall, and let yourself down easy with minimal damage. Any good place will teach you this as one of your first lessons, but judo especially should emphasize this aspect.
posted by MangyCarface at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

It doesn't take much to get me to stumble or fall right on my face while running.

What I do is carefully watch where I'm walking or running. My problem is very weak ankles.

I've been told that working out on a trampoline will help strengthen your ankles and/or practice standing on one foot for increasingly longer periods every day.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 1:56 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: It really helps to slow down - take the stairs slower - pay just a little more attention where you place each foot. The extra second or two it takes to get up or down isn't going to take that much out of your day. Also, the slower you go the less momentum there is behind you when you do have a misstep, so you will have a better chance of correcting yourself when you do, and you won't fall as hard. A little mindfullness will go a long way.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:56 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would guess that there aren't any tips from martial arts that would help you, but actually taking martial arts probably would. As someone who practices Wing Chun kung fu, my proprioception and balance have improved quite a bit.
posted by hermitosis at 2:02 PM on December 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: best practices for falling with minimal injury

A martial art, aikido perhaps, would be good training both in how to fall, and how to balance better so you don't fall.

My balance has improved a lot since I took up tai chi six months ago.
posted by anadem at 2:02 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know how old you are, but I had a very similar problem when I was younger. I would tilt to the side when standing, my coffee cup tilting along with me. People would go "hahaha! it's always so obvious you're going to spill it! and then you do spill it! hahaha! you never learn!!!" That's when they didn't get annoyed, which was frequently. They were very fed up with me, though to be fair that was only one reason among many.

And doorframes. I couldn't go through a door without banging into it. I would ask myself what kind of klutzosaurus can't even walk through an open door ffs. And I would position myself, psyche myself up "down the middle!" and launch myself right at the center of the wide open-doorway. And smack, right into the frame I'd go. Every time.


When I was 23 I found just the right dance class. You might have to try a few because it takes just the right teacher with just the right approach. You also have to be absolutely hellbent on learning.

Also, my brain matured a bit as well, I think. But the dancing absolutely helped.

But do get your eyes and ears checked. I'd look for causes first. This kind of clumsiness has got to have some kind of physical cause.
posted by tel3path at 2:02 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a vote for getting your eyes checked.

I have incredibly terrible depth perception, and the inevitable bruises that come with constantly misjudging distances. (stairs, doorframes, cars approaching crosswalks... all mortal enemies of Lar)

It turns out one of my eyes is waaaaaaaaaaaay out of wack, and I didn't find out until mid highschool. I've got a 20/20 vision in one eye and am apparently terribly nearsighted int he other. You may have made it through life w/o glasses since your good eye compensates.

Luckily I work out fairly regularly (I'm an avid skier and hiker), so all of my tiny supporting muscles are strong, and my reflexes are a little sharper than average so I tend to catch myself before I fall flat on my face.

I recomend balancing on one foot at a time whenever you can- at the microwave, while brushing teeth, while waiting in line (I do it. I look rediuclous, but the stairs haven't attacked in a good few years). It will improve your balance and will help with the tripping and falling bit. It will not help at all with the running into things. (but the tripping and falling hurts more, so there's that)
posted by larthegreat at 2:12 PM on December 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I've never been super clumsy, but it took me a while to feel comfortable in precarious positions because of a high center of gravity. I learned to ride a bike fairly late, for example. The primary thing which helped me was not being afraid to fall and with that came the ability to experiment with balance. I second a dance or martial arts or any class where you're doing highly dynamic movement. Martial arts is preferred because you get to practice falling :-)

What helped me was to learn how to fall by falling. Martial arts classes, again, will help some. What I did is literally get real low (on your knees, then crouching) and practice falling in different directions very slowly so you're not really falling, but rolling. Don't shoot out a limb -- you should go slow enough that the temptation to do this is super low. You want to feel yourself "rolling" down. Gradually (very) do it faster and from a higher point. This gets you a technique, but it also relieves a lot of the fear you have when you feel yourself going and you don't know what to do. A lot of the time, if you have the technique in hand, it *better* to fall than stop yourself (assuming you're not at the top of a flight of stairs).

This also gives you a sense of what it feels like so you can catch yourself earlier. If you are at the top of the stairs it gives you the confidence to fall backwards against the steps instead of tumbling forwards down to infinity, for example. Essentially, you learn how to control a fall and direct it. Sometimes, you'll even start to redirect and find yourself righted again because you countered a fall. It's a personal process.

Similar for running into things. Simply pay attention and go slow. If you find yourself twisting ankles and bumping into things -- you're not paying attention all the way through. Look where you are going and go slowly. This sounds obvious, but it's not. An anti-technique is to plan 3-4 steps ahead then shut off your brain. No. Feel yourself walking through the entire process. Treat yourself like a dumb toddler for a while and gradually your mind will incorporate the corrections and you can speed up.
posted by smidgen at 2:18 PM on December 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, seconding checking for eye or inner ear problems if it's super bad. I'm just relating my experience from the perspective of someone who had (and has, when I don't practice regularly ) precariousness issues.
posted by smidgen at 2:26 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: Someone I know had the same problem and swears it was cured by going to Tai Chi classes.
posted by emilyw at 2:26 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You sound like me!

I found these things helped:

* Stop wearing skirts. I trip much less when I am wearing trousers. It is important that the trouser hemline is above the ankle, though.

* See a physiotherapist for ankle-strengthening exercises.

* Don't multitask, ever. If walking up stairs, just walk up stairs. Don't try and walk up stairs while thinking about anything other than walking up stairs (not even what you want for lunch!), that way leads injury.

I still walk into doorframes and doorhandles a lot though. In my case it is because of Fibromyalgia, you might want to talk to your doctor about whether that is a possibility?
posted by Year of meteors at 2:31 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, tai chi and yoga both helped me get a better sense for where my body is in space, which helps with this. I've also turned a few falls into shoulder rolls - this is the sort of thing you would learn in martial arts - going with the fall and not trying to break it with your fragile wrists or face, but rolling with it.
posted by ldthomps at 2:37 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: For coping with how to fall, I second martial arts. The ones that are heavy into throws, such as aikido, jujitsu, or judo, will teach you how to properly fall.
posted by 7life at 2:43 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: Sit down.

Seriously. My gymnastics coach told me this years ago. Your ass is far better designed to land on the ground than anything else. If you feel your balance go, don't put your hands out, don't try to balance out of it, just bend your knees and sit down. Let gravity have you for a minute. It may look undignified but it will save broken wrists, pulled muscles and other insanity. It also sounds insane, but practice this. Stand on your bed, and make yourself lose your balance. Fall on your butt. Do it again and again until the next time your bonk something and put those arms out to pinwheel you instinctively pull them in and sit down.
posted by teleri025 at 2:49 PM on December 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

1) Going up stairs. Miss a step; stumble, fall like a felled tree and smack my chin on a stair further up. Or going down stairs, miss a step or two (usually close to the bottom, thank goodness) and stumble the rest of the way, hitting the floor hard (oh, my aching knees and hips).

In this scenario I don't understand why you're not putting your hands out in front of you to break your fall. I would get your eyes checked and see your GP to have your ears examined and frankly, to potentially rule out a neurological issue. Because this seems like a paranormal degree of klutzyness. And I say this as someone who trips over leaves.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:50 PM on December 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Things that help me.

Slow down (this has been repeated here already, but it's worth saying again

focus on your breath rather than the task at hand. I realize this sounds counterintuitive, but it works for so many things.

stop before the task and have a little pep talk. Visualize yourself going up or coming down the stairs without incident. Immerse yourself in advance in the feeling of success. Take a deep breath and then begin. Do not continue the pep talk while you are on the stairs.

Seconding dance classes, it might take a few styles and/or instructors before you find something that resonates with you. But stick with it. (I happen to know that you are a woman), but allowing yourself to be led on a dancefloor takes incredible self control, self trust, and also trust in your surroundings. The lead has one major job, which is to keep you safe and make you look good. Surrendering the need to keep myself hypervigilant about safety and looking graceful has done worlds of good for my posture and confidence and awareness of my body in space. After a few classes following, talk a class on leading. This will put you back in utter control of your space, and will make you responsible for manuevering another person around the floor, but in a fairly restricted environment.

Finally, keep doing things that involve spatial awareness. If you have these problems at home, approach your place in a different way than normal. Crawl. Tip toe. Skip in a straight line in a wide open space. Make friends with your body. Yoga helped me a lot, and while I'm tempted to say "not as much as dancing" maybe it's more truthful that I didn't notice it as much as dancing. Maybe years of yoga primed the well for the dancing to take hold. I don't think I could say for sure.

Practice falling. A single class of trapeze, falling onto big billowy mats from above might help. Diving into a pool from a board, or just flopping in from the side might help.

Find a field and set up some obstacles, like figure eights. Sports coaches use little cones. you could probably, uh, borrow... some big orange ones in the nighttime. Not sure how easy they would be to return. Also, that is very illegal.

Play catch, it will help you learn where your body is in relation to a very definite thing.

As for the outstretched stiff wrists falling thing...meditate, yoga, breathe. Practice these things when you are not falling and they will be easier to draw on when you are.
posted by bilabial at 2:55 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hey, not to terrify you, but have you been like this all your life? If yes, look into dyspraxia, which can be ameliorated with occupational therapy. But if not? If this is getting worse? Talk to your doctor. My sister-in-law developed clumsiness problems like this, and it turned out to be a massive tumor in her cerebellum.

(I'm dyspraxic, of the trip-on-the-floor and choke-on-my-own-spit variety. OT helps a lot, a lot a lot.)
posted by KathrynT at 2:55 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh. One more thing. Physically touch the obstacle as you go slowly around it. Reach right out and brush is with your fingertips. (Unless it's a fancy vase or another person....)
posted by bilabial at 3:05 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I stopped running into things and twisting my ankle and generally looking like a victim of domestic violence when I got prescription orthotics. Turns out my feet aren't aligned correctly. Their center of balance point is way off to the side.

Orthotics are magic.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:08 PM on December 19, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, lots to think about. I hope I don't have a brain tumor, though. DarlingBri: I do put out my hands to break my fall when tripping up the stairs, but I still hit the ground hard and usually end up hitting my face somewhere.

I have the right prescription for my eyes (horrible nearsightedness and bad astigmatism), but I've never thought to get my inner ears checked - good tip, everyone, thanks!

I honestly think that in most cases my clumsiness is due to rushing. I am working hard to overcome that but it's really tough, and some parallel stuff I can do to actually improve my coordination seems like a good idea. I especially appreciate the specific suggestions for falling/coordination exercises. Thank you!
posted by peachfuzz at 3:19 PM on December 19, 2011

Response by poster: And maybe I should note that in this question, "frequently" means probably a couple stumbles or a corner-ramming a day, one actual fall that hurts/bruises but doesn't leave lasting injury every week or so.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:22 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: Judo, jujutsu, aikido, hapkido, and taijutsu are martial arts which will teach you how to fall safely. (Not all martial arts teach that skill.)

It's hard to teach the skill of safely falling through text. Smidgen and teleri025 have some good pointers upthread. You absolutely will need to practice if you want to develop some usable skills. That said, here are some general principles if you do choose to practice on your own:

Relax. (This won't happen unless you've practiced falling.) Watch Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.
Breathe out. Do not hold your breath. Repeat - Do Not Hold Your Breath.
Bend your knees, so that you collapse straight down instead of tipping over like a board. (Or as smidgen said, Sit.) (Bending your knees when you feel your balance going may also allow you to recover so you don't fall at all.)
Try to land on fleshy padded surfaces rather than bony parts.
If you're falling forward, turn your head so you don't hit your face. If you're falling backwards, tuck your chin so you don't hit your head.
If you must try catching yourself with your arms, try to take the impact on the front side of your forearms rather than on your hands. If you reach out with straight arms and land on your hands, you run the risk of breaking your wrist.
When you practice falling, start out from a low squat, so that you don't have to worry about hurting yourself. Once you get completely comfortable falling over in any direction from a low squat, you can raise up a little bit higher and try from there.
posted by tdismukes at 3:57 PM on December 19, 2011

I had this problem for a shamefully long period some years back and attributed it to clumsiness. All of my jeans had major tears in the knee. I would trip over, literally, pebbles and looked like a kid just off training wheels. It's a horrible feeling, going down in slow motion. Turns out I had an (otherwise) symptom-less ear infection that required two medical piercings of the eardrum; very unpleasant but I have been largely confident of maintaining verticality since.
posted by Morrigan at 4:04 PM on December 19, 2011

I also have bad myopia and bad astigmatism, but that wasn't my problem. Started getting scared about the brain tumor thing too :P Balance exercises didn't help me at all. Because of astigmatism, I also misjudge distance, but...

Gripping something hard helped me keep balance. Even pushing my palm to a wall, hard, while I'm walking.

Do you feel less clumsy when you're barefoot? If so, try to wear tight-fitting shoes (no boots or heels) and with thin socks so that you don't lose "feeling" with the ground.

Have you always been clumsy, or did it happen recently? I checked your history because I wanted to see what kind of food you eat, and I found you had knee pain, what kind of pain was it, joint pain?
Do you still have that pain? Do you have pain in any other joints or bones?

Any chance you have thyroid problems?

I don't know if this can help you, but this resolved for me once I got my hyperthyroidism taken care of (by changing my diet). I don't know exactly what fixed my clumsiness (I was so clumsy I hid at home so I wouldn't embarrass myself).

I'm curious what kind of food you eat, since I know changing my diet helped me, but I don't want to push, so send me a mefi message if you want. I eat lots of meats, fish, bone stocks...
posted by midnightmoonlight at 4:06 PM on December 19, 2011

I ask about the knees, because I imagine fixing my knees is what made me less clumsy. And eating well helped me heal my joints and bones.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 4:07 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: I second larthegreat with the balance-on-one-foot-while-brushing-teeth method; I picked it up from the NYT: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/08/how-to-fix-bad-ankles/

The article also gives some other basic balance exercises.

I also find I trip outside on uneven ground (or even, sometimes!) when I'm too lazy/tired to pick my feet up. I sort of shuffle forward and then trip. So if I catch myself doing that, I kind of repeat in my head, "Pick your feet up!" over and over while stepping higher than average and it seems to help drive it in.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:40 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have pretty good balance, but fairly bad kinesthetic awareness, so I have a real problem with number 2 in your list (1 and 3 to some degree, as well). I once swung my arm (just walking along) into the end of a squared-off railing that was just a bit closer than I thought it was, producing a deep bruise in the shape of a perfect square that amused my coworkers to no end.

For me, the best help has been bilabial's technique of reaching out and touching obstacles, running my hands along them as I go by. I think of it sort of like a cat's whiskers - additional information about location/speed/distance and the added benefit of keeping you aware of it as you approach and pass. Helps on stairs, too - can even serve as a metronome so that you're not trying to move everything at once and getting tangled up: (1) Slide hand; (2) One foot up; (3) Bring feet together.

Just pack lots of hand sanitizer.
posted by clerestory at 4:43 PM on December 19, 2011

Do you have large-framed glasses? I ask because I was a classic stumbler and kept falling upstairs when I had thicker frames. They messed with my distance and depth perception and created dark area in my peripheral vision. Now I have almost-invisible rims, I don't seem to be as clumsy.
posted by vickyverky at 5:06 PM on December 19, 2011

I don't know how to fall well
but any chance you have sensory integration disorder causing the clumsiness?
posted by ozone14 at 5:09 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: Falling?

The club I went to had us practicing how to fall for a good couple of weeks before we got to join in on anything on the mat. That is what you want to do.
Side breakfalls, front breakfalls,

And, well, I'm just glad that I did judo before the time, I say, tripped down a concrete flight of stairs. I got to the bottom, and was stunned to realised I'd gone into a break-roll, and had no damage.

Oddly, I found fire staff very good for my co-ordination. I know that doesn't seem like the most obvious sporty thing to take up, but the basic movement is just these infinity/figure-8 motions from side to side, which cross left-right hemispheres, and apparently that sort of co-ordinated motion is ideal for improving co-ordination/balancing.
posted by Elysum at 5:33 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: Nthing tai chi. This will help your balance and could help both when you do fall and make you less likely to fall.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:33 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: A bit of wisdom from stage combat where actors need to fall down over and over again in rehearsals and performances. Make sure you fall on the squishy bits, this is generally easier for women who often have a greater abundance, but fall on muscley fatty areas and you'll cause a lot less damage.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:31 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: Yoga will help with both balance and mindfulness (which might help with slowing down).
posted by BrashTech at 6:42 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're having 50+ falls a year and that's excluding small bangs and scrapes? I speed around everywhere, take stairs two or three at a time and I honestly can't remember the last time I tripped up. I'd seriously talk to a doctor, especially if this is a recent thing.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:13 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: In addition to talking to a doctor, take a long hard look at your shoes and how they fit you.

After that, Nthing a martial art. A frind of mine has a story, where Larry, the guy at the dojo who wasn't particularly athletic, but worked the exercises and practiced and stuff came in one week looking like hell and announced that, akido I think it was, had saved his life the previous weekend. Everybody looked at each other because Larry was exactly not the kind of guy who'd get into a bar fight over the weekend or something. He hadn't - he was cleaning out his gutters and took a two story fall.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:18 PM on December 19, 2011

Consider seeing a neurologist; I'm not thinking brain tumor or anything, but perhaps you have mild neuropathy like Charcot-Marie-Tooth.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:20 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: I am clinically clumsy (dyspraxia), in the sense that I used to fall going up or down steps every six months or so. I've eradicated it by simply making sure I'm concentrating fully on the physical task at hand, whenever there is a risk of danger. So don't rush, don't carry on conversations, don't play around with your phone. If there's ice be really cautious, use handrails etc. Although I agree that once a week is excessive, and worth following up.
posted by Marlinspike at 9:38 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All of your troubles seem to have the same root:
I'll put my weight down wrong and go down on an ankle, or catch a toe on a raised bit of sidewalk

You seem to be unaware of your own body, unaware of where your foot is, the angle of your ankle in relation to the ground, your center of balance, and so on.

If that's the case (if it's not a biological problem), your body can be trained. Try tai chi. It's a relaxing, low impact, nonviolent activity that you can do from now until you die, and it is essentially one big exercise routine that teaches your body (not necessarily your conscious mind) to automatically know where all of its parts are in relation to one another and the earth.

After some time, you'll find yourself, for example, coming out of the shower and standing on one foot without wobbling as you dry yourself, and you'll realize that you couldn't do that before.

It's worth doing. As you get older, simple falls are no longer slapstick. Slip and break a hip; break a hip and die.
posted by pracowity at 11:59 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Secondingkid charlemagne's shoe suggestion. I'm a 9 narrow, and when I stopped pretending I was 'an 8.5 or a 9 but neither is really quite right,' I found myself tripping a lot less. Why? Because I am no longer subconsciously working to keep my shoes on my feet and my brain can attend to just propelling me forward. So, check out different shoe widths, it might help.
posted by bilabial at 8:10 AM on December 20, 2011

Response by poster: ok, so now that I think about it I actually have fairly good balance when I focus — standing on one foot with my eyes closed and my other one folded behind me in a quad stretch is not wobbly at all; I feel pretty supported and not teeter-y during balance poses in yoga. But when I'm moving about in the world, I'm always thinking about ten million other things (I walk down the street lots of times and realize when I arrive at my destination that I have no memory at all of the walk because I was so focused on other stuff). All the tips to slow down and be mindful are really important.

And yes the better balance barefoot thing is totally a thing with me! I need to look at if my shoes really fit me or not.

Taking up a martial art or tai chi is really intriguing me. Better body awareness - that's what I need. And the tips for getting comfortable with falling are much appreciated!

Thanks, everyone!
posted by peachfuzz at 1:55 PM on December 20, 2011

That's true, I'm kind of head in the clouds too, making me clumsy.
I have to consciously think "put body weight on your left foot, move foot forward, put body weight on your right foot, move foot forward".

I'm not thinking these words exactly, but I'm concentrating on what I'm going to do with my feet. Concentrating on my body.

If my thoughts go elsewhere... forget it!

Happy New Year, peachuzz.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 2:36 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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