Booster Shots

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To save a hip, fall like a skydiver

July 9, 2008 |  5:00 am

Getting less stable on your feet? Now's the time to draw on your inner daredevil and learn to fall like a skydiver -- crouching and leaning to one side so you land first on your lower leg, then roll onto your rump. 

If you do so, you're considerably less likely to fracture your hip -- or so a computer simulation from the University of Michigan suggests.

This sky-diving strategy worked better than others when researchers compared what happened when little stick people falling sideways -- the kind of tumble that often breaks a hip -- kept their bodies stiff (the "broomstick" strategy); swiveled their hips while keeping the rest of the body stiff (the "hip lateral flexion" strategy); or adopted the "spine and hip" strategy, which "confined the knees to a maximum bend of 20 degrees, but other joints could operate normally." (It seems hard to imagine you could remember that last one while plummeting to the floor.)

Luckily, the reduced muscle mass of the kind that comes with age won't stop someone from being able to exercise this save-a-hip strategy, the researchers found. But there's very little time to act when you do take a tumble -- and the slower your reaction time, the more force the hip will have to bear. So it's best to know what to do ahead of time, says University of Michigan study author James Ashton-Miller (his study is published in the Journal of Biomechanics).

To view a movie of the right way to fall, go here.

-- Rosie Mestel