The World Health Organization reports that falls are a significant global public health issue. In fact, each year 37.3 million falls are severe enough to require medical attention, and falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury and deaths. For an older adult, a non-fatal fall can lead to serious injury that can result in a significant loss of mobility and independence. Research shows that knee pathologies play a part in fall likelihood.
In a study published in December 2022, researchers investigated the role of fear of falls and proprioception (the body’s ability to sense where its various parts are in relation to one another for purposes of movement and balance) in 372 patients with knee osteoarthritis (KOA). The participants completed multiple questionaries and underwent several examinations that revealed that those with fewer falls had better balance and knee range of motion. Additionally, the risk for falls was highest among the patients with more severe knee pain and disability, a higher fear of falling, concurrent low back pain or diabetes mellitus, and an overweight/obese body mass index. The authors concluded that knee proprioception and range of motion are protective factors against falls.
In a separate study, researchers separated 72 KOA patients into three treatments groups: mobilization with movements, passive joint mobilization, and electrotherapy. Each patient received twelve treatments and underwent examinations before their first treatment, after treatment concluded, and one year later. The results revealed that patients in the manual therapy groups experienced better outcomes both after the completion of care and one year later, particularly with respect to knee pain, function, range of motion, and strength. The findings suggest that manual therapy treatment for patients with KOA could improve knee function and reduce the risk for falls.
In addition to care to manage KOA, one can lower the risk for falls by getting regular exercise, checking with their medical doctor to identify any medications that can raise fall risk, and create a safer home environment (slip-resistant surfaces, removing throw rugs, installing handrails and grab bars, etc.).