People with arthritis, particularly older people, are often at greater risk of falls. This article explains why, and provides some tips on the things we can do to help reduce that risk.
Causes of falls in people with arthritis
Below are some common risk factors for falls in people with arthritis:
Decreased physical activity
Doing little physical activity over time can cause pain, stiffness, balance problems, and less strength. All of these can cause us to fall. When we have less strength, especially in our weight bearing joints (knees, hips, feet), we can’t support our weight very well.
People with arthritis may find it difficult or painful to exercise. But, research shows that regular exercise is one of the best treatments for arthritis. It can help to improve movement of joints, muscle strength, and balance. It can also help to decrease pain, fatigue, and muscle tension. Read more about physical activity and arthritis in our Arthritis Insights and Information Sheets.
Joint instability can be caused from pain and stiffness, inflammation, or little physical activity. This can lead to poor mobility, and sometimes also makes people change the way they would usually do an activity. This ‘compensation’ can affect balance. Overtime it can also cause damage or pain to other joints and muscles from working too hard or from wrong use.
Some medications or drugs for arthritis may have side effects (like dizziness) that can cause us to lose balance or fall. Medications for conditions like depression, sleep disorders and anxiety can also increase risk of falling.
But, it is important that you do not stop taking prescribed medications. If you’re concerned about your risk of falling, speak with your doctor or pharmacist. They can help you understand your medicines, make sure you are taking them right, and ask about side effects. There are also other health professionals they can refer you to who will help assess your falls risk.
Pain and Fatigue
These common symptoms of arthritis can be a cause or result of the things we’ve mentioned above. They can also impact on each other (e.g. extreme tiredness caused by pain in the night). This can make our bodies feel tired and weak, or affect how alert we are when doing things in the day.
Tips to help prevent falls
Falls often result from a combination of risk factors. Identifying and changing risk factors can reduce the risk of falls. Here are some tips to help reduce your risk:
- Keep doing regular exercise. Include a mix of balance, strength and fitness exercises. But, before you start any new exercise, speak with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you. They can also refer you to a Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist who can give you exercises that are right for you.
- Look around your home for ways you can help reduce your risk of tripping or falling. Look for trip hazards, poor lighting, or slippery surfaces. You might be able to fix these by moving things out of common walkways, or getting some non-slip mats.
- Organise a home risk assessment by an Occupational Therapist. The Occupational Therapist might also suggest some changes to your home like putting in handrails in some areas.
- Learn about assistive devices. These are things like modified equipment and furniture, or walking aids. Assistive devices can help you to keep doing every day tasks. An Occupational Therapist can help you find suitable devices.
- Speak with your doctor about symptoms like dizziness, poor balance or weakness. Your doctor may review your health history and medications. They can also help you understand ways to help manage these symptoms.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Osteoarthritis. Last updated August 2019 https://www.aihw.gov.au/
- Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis and Falls: How to Reduce Your Risk. n.d. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/managing-pain/joint-protection/osteoarthritis-and-falls
- Creaky Joints. Preventing Falls and Slips When Your Have Arthritis: 15 Important Tips. n.d. https://creakyjoints.org/living-with-arthritis/preventing-falls-with-arthritis/
- Queensland Health. Queensland Stay on Your Feet. Last updated June 2016 https://www.health.qld.gov.au/stayonyourfeet