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A Balancing Act

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As a sport with a higher percentage of seniors than Falls also occur because of faulty posture. In [Photo
most, pickleball can result in player injuries that require more than just getting up and dusting off. Falls requiring medical attention are the leading cause of injuries in adults over 65, so understanding why we fall can help us be better prepared in case we find ourselves down and out.

WHY WE FALL
Falls often occur because the player is not moving and exercising regularly. When we become sedentary, our level of fitness declines and we have difficulty sprinting for a ball that has been lobbed over our heads, for example.

Also, many seniors take medication, and medications can have side effects like lightheadedness or dizziness. While you may not be conscious of the effects when you are sitting reading a book, they may affect your ability (and stability) on a pickleball court. It is a good idea to always check with your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you are taking.

#1] below you see the posture of many senior players. My shoulders are rounded forward, and my head is forward. The 10-pound bowling ball we call a head is pulling my weight forward. If I sprint
forward in this position, it may be difficult to stop, causing me to fall forward. It also makes it more difficult for me to change direction, for example moving back to recover an overhead.

[Photo #2] demonstrates good posture, i.e. a neutral postural alignment. This position allows my front and back muscles to work equally to hold me up, much like the poles of a teepee must be equal to keep it from leaning in the wind.

LOOK AT YOURSELF
Take the time to look at yourself in the mirror. Which of the posture pictures most closely resembles you? If you want to improve your posture, consider including the following stretching exercises in your daily routine:

[Photo #3] Stand in a doorway with arms outstretched. Take a small step through the doorway to stretch your chest muscles. Exhale as you step forward. Do this 10 times, several times a day. If you find this exercise causes soreness, back off a bit.

[Photo #4] Hold a towel in front of you. As you pull on the ends of the towel, pinch your shoulder blades together. Start with the towel at chest height. Do 10 repetitions. Raise the towel until it is at eye level, pull on either end of the towel and again pinch your shoulder blades. Complete 10 repetitions. Again, you can do this exercise several times a day.

IMPROVING YOUR BALANCING ACT
Balance is also critical to reducing your risk of falling. There are three factors that affect your ability to remain in balance as you move safely from one place to another. These factors are:

• Vision
• Vestibular (your inner ear)
• Proprioception, i.e. when your ankle wiggles as you stand on one foot.

There are simple exercises that you can do to improve your balance. Each of these should be done with both feet, but will only take about six minutes a day. The first exercise [Photo #5] works on all three factors. Simply stand on one leg with your eyes open and slowly count to 10. At first, you will want to do this while standing next to a wall, counter or table just in case you need to catch yourself. Once you are comfortable that you can do this safely without something to touch or grab on to, you can incorporate this exercise into your daily life.

If you can easily complete that exercise, consider trying the next step [Photo #6]. Again, stand on one foot, but this time close your eyes. You might be surprised to find what a difference taking the vision factor out of the balance equation makes — so you will definitely want to first try this exercise with one hand on a wall or other support to start.

Once you have mastered the eyes-closed, one-foot balance exercise, attempt the same exercise but tilt your head back [Photo #7]. This exercise is particularly helpful for those whose ankles wiggle. Again, safety first: hold on to a counter or wall, releasing one hand and then the other.

Have patience. You will get better at this with time, practice and persistence. And you might just astound your opponents when you blast a one-legged, flying, half-court volley past them.

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