Physical Therapy Fall Prevention: The Importance of Strength Training

Falls can be detrimental to one’s well-being, especially as we age. Physical therapy plays a pivotal role in fall prevention, and one key aspect is strength training. Strength training, also known as resistance exercise) is an essential part of physical therapy treatment. It helps you recover strength, enhance physical function, and prevent injuries.

In this blog, we’ll delve into the importance of strength training in physical therapy for fall prevention, understanding how building strength can be a game-changer in maintaining balance and stability.

The 5 Principles of Strength Training

The basic principles of a strength training program include: 

  1. Overload Principle: It is important to overload the musculoskeletal system over time to create and sustain physiological adaptations from strength training and overcome muscle accommodation. 
  2. Specificity Principle: Adaptations are specific to the muscles trained. 
  3. Progression/Periodization: Overloading should occur at an optimal level and timeframe to maximize performance. 
  4. Individuality: Strength training programs should be individually tailored because each individual will respond differently to their training program.
  5. Reversibility: The effects of training will be lost if the training is stopped for an extended period.

Equipment for Strength Training

Woman in physical therapy holding up ball above head

Different types of strength training include: 

  • Body weight- can be used for squats, push-ups, chin-ups, etc. 
  • Resistance bands- these provide resistance when stretched. They are portable and can be adapted depending on the workout. The bands provide continuous resistance throughout a movement. 
  • Free weights- classic strength training tools such as barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells. 
  • Medicine balls or sandbags- weighted balls or bags.
  • Weight machines- devices that have adjustable seats with handles attached either to weights or hydraulics. 
  • Suspension equipment- a training tool that uses gravity and the user’s body weight to complete various exercises.

Effects of Strength Training

Strength training enhances both physical and mental health. Some physical and mental health benefits that can be achieved through strength and resistance training include: 

  • Improved muscle strength and tone. 
  • Maintaining flexibility, mobility, and balance.
  • Helps maintain independence when aging. 
  • Improves muscle-to-fat ratio and helps weight management. 
  • Can help reduce or prevent cognitive decline in older people. 
  • Increases stamina.
  • Prevents or controls chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, arthritis, back pain, depression, obesity, and more. 
  • Helps manage pain. 
  • Improves posture.
  • Decreases risk of injury. 
  • Increases bone density and strength- reducing the risk of osteoporosis. 
  • Improves confidence, boosts self-confidence, and improves mood. 
  • Reduces resting blood pressure. 
  • And more.

Strength and the Older Population

As we age, our bodies become more frail. As we get older: 

  • We lose muscle mass and muscle strength.
  • We lose bone density. 
  • Our kidneys don’t function as well.
  • Our ability to metabolize glucose effectively reduces.
  • We lose brain mass and the speedy connections that send messages between cells start to slow down. 

All of these changes can have huge consequences. While some are inevitable with aging, others have environmental and genetic risk factors that also play a role. The changes in our muscles and bones cause aches and pains and make climbing stairs and household chores more difficult. 

This also puts you at an increased risk of falling over. Ultimately, older adults with low muscle mass and bone density are at a higher risk of a poor quality of life, loss of independence, and even an earlier death. 

Frailty, sarcopenia, and osteoporosis are the most common conditions that cause a decline in physical mobility and an increased risk of falls. Resistance exercises can play a vital role in the improvement of functional mobility. Resistance exercises can help increase bone density which is affected by sarcopenia and osteoporosis. 

Strength training exercises combined with balance exercises or aerobic exercises are the most effective strategy for improving functional mobility in older adults. There is evidence to show that a large amount of decline in muscle strength seen in aging is due to inactivity and disuse, but these changes can be reversed with strength and resistance training.

How can Physical Therapy Patients Stay Safe During Strength Training?

A woman walks under the supervision of a physical therapist

It is essential to stay safe during physical therapy strength training. An injury can cause various issues, like a loss of strength, muscle mass, or balance. Follow the steps below to ensure safe and effective strength training during physical therapy:

1. Start Slow

Be sure to begin with baby steps. It may be tempting to challenge yourself from the beginning, but building your muscles slowly is essential. If you overexert yourself in the early stages of a new program, you may risk injuring yourself.

2. Always Warm Up Your Muscles

Before you begin any workout or exercise regimen, it is important to make sure that you stretch and warm up your body. The physical therapist should provide the patient with routines to prepare the body for various exercises.

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

Proper nutrition is key in keeping muscles healthy and strong while strength training. Be sure to eat a proper amount of protein, carbs, fruits, and vegetables to allow for peak performance. It is also important to stay hydrated throughout the day and while training. Staying hydrated will prevent your muscles from tightening up, and will provide you with more energy throughout the day.

4. Understand Your Body

A small amount of soreness when you start training is normal, but if you experience severe pain or discomfort be sure to consult with your doctor or physical therapist.

5. Utilize Safety Equipment

Utilize safety equipment during physical therapy to prevent injuries and accidental falls. Safety equipment like the Solo-Step Overhead Track and Harness System helps maintain balance, coordination, and posture during strength, gait, and balance training. 

The Solo-Step Overhead Track and Harness System is a ceiling-mounted aluminum track system. A harness connects the patient to the aluminum track with a lanyard and trolley. With the Solo-Step, the patient will be protected from falls and injuries during strength, balance, and gait training. With the Solo-Step, you can expect: 

  • Increased confidence
  • Decreased fear of falling
  • Improved strength, balance, and gait pattern
  • Improved ability to challenge yourself
  • Decreased chances of injuries
  • And more! 

To learn more about the Solo-Step Overhead Track and Harness System, click here! 

In conclusion, strength training emerges as a pivotal component in physical therapy for fall prevention, offering a multifaceted approach to address the challenges associated with aging. This blog has explored the fundamental principles of strength training, diverse equipment options, and the extensive physical and mental health benefits it brings. For older adults, grappling with issues like frailty, sarcopenia, and osteoporosis, resistance exercises present a crucial strategy for improving functional mobility and curbing the risk of falls.

Prioritizing safety is paramount during strength training, particularly in the context of physical therapy. Starting with caution, incorporating warm-up routines, maintaining a balanced diet, understanding one’s body, and utilizing safety equipment, such as the Solo-Step Overhead Track and Harness System, are essential steps to ensure a secure and effective strength training experience. By embracing these practices, individuals can not only enhance their physical well-being but also foster confidence, independence, and a resilient approach to aging, minimizing the impact of falls on their overall quality of life.