Fall-related upper body injuries in the older adult: A review of the biomechanical issues

K. M. DeGoede, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
J. A. Ashton-Miller, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
A. B. Schultz, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


Although the epidemiology of fall-related injuries is well established for the elderly population over 65 years of age, the biomechanics of how, when and why injuries do and do not occur when arresting a fall have received relatively little attention. This paper reviews the epidemiological literature in the MEDLINE data base pertinent to the biomechanics of fall-related injuries, including data on fall rates, fall-related injury rates, fall directions and types of injuries available. It also covers primary sources not listed on MEDLINE, along with the pertinent biomechanics literature. Many falls in older adults are in a forward direction, and as a result the upper extremities are one of the most commonly injured structures, presumably in protecting the head and torso. In this review emphasis is placed on what is, and what is not, known of the biomechanical factors that determine the impact forces and injury risk associated with upper extremity injuries in forward falls. While decreased bone mineral density may be contributory, it is not a reliable predictor of fracture risk. Evidence is presented that fall-related impact forces can be reduced by appropriate volitional arrest strategies. Further theoretical and experimental research is needed to identify appropriate fall-arrest strategies for the elderly, as well as the physical capacities and skills required to do so. Inexpensive interventions might then be developed to teach safe fall-arrest techniques to older individuals. © 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.