Don’t Let the Ice Underfoot Take You Down |

Don’t Let the Ice Underfoot Take You Down

Jeff Russell, PTAlpine Physical Therapy & Wellness Center P.C.Fraser, Colorado

Whether you’re on the slopes or crossing an icy parking lot, balance, a strong core and quick reactions can go a long way toward preventing a minor slip from becoming a major inconveniencing injury. All three of these areas can be improved if just a little time is spent regularly working on them. When your foot slips on the ground’s surface, signals are sent to the brain that your foot is no longer stationary. Your brain responds by sending signals back to the muscle system to take action that hopefully will prevent a fall. The first muscles activated are those around your spine the abdominals and back muscles engage to stabilize your center, so that subsequent movements will have a strong base from which to move. These muscles can also prevent your back from too much movement between the spine joints, which could result in a sprain should you hit the ground with a jarring force. If you’ve already had a bout of low back pain, these muscles may very well be delayed in firing, unless they’ve been retrained to do so, putting you at a risk for a re-injury. Your arms might reflexively go up in the air as a way to improve your balance. One leg or both might be pulled into action to re-establish your base of support underneath your center of gravity in other words to get your feet back underneath you again. If all systems are working well, you will avoid any injuries. Slower reactions, weaker core, previous back injury and poor balance to begin with can set you up for a fall. Reactions can be trained with specific exercises or participation in sports that involve quick movements. For core strength and control, a program specific to the spinal stabilizers can do a lot for strengthening your back and abdominals in a protective way. The deepest muscle layer of the abdominals, the transversus abdominus wraps around the waist like the elastic back braces worn by people who work in occupations that involve a lot of lifting. This muscle is our very own natural brace, but it often is not strong enough to protect our backs adequately without specific training. Other abdominals, the obliques, wrap around our waist and low back outside the transversus, and can provide additional stabilization. Pilates and other exercise programs such as Gyrokinesis that target the core stabilizers can strengthen these muscles in ways that will guard your back from injury.Balance is our ability to orient ourselves in our environment. We rely on three systems to achieve this. The vestibular apparatus is a tiny system of semi-circular canals that is located in our inner ear, and is primarily responsible for perceiving motion of our head. It communicates with a cluster of nerve cells in the brainstem dedicated to interpreting the signals that it sends.Our vision is a second system that helps us identify our environment, which way is up, and which way is not. We get clues from the environment all the time telling us where horizontal and vertical are, unless of course, we are in the dark. Darkness provides an extra challenge by taking away visual cues and forcing us to rely on the vestibular system and the third balance system, which is called proprioception. Proprioception is how we feel our body position and how it relates to our world around us, whether we feel it through our feet as in standing, our legs contacting our chair, or a walking stick, it provides information about where we are in space and how gravity connects us to our environment. Proprioception can be improved with a variety of balance exercises. Closing the eyes while standing on one foot for instance, challenges us to use only the proprioception and vestibular systems, so we encourage them to work more efficiently.Having poor balance doesn’t mean you can’t make your balance better. Challenge yourself to balance and react better and you can reduce the likelihood of falls and injury.

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