What Are Ways to Prevent Falls and Related Fractures?
Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of
Publications for the Public

Reviewed January 2011

Falls are serious at any age, but especially for older people who are more likely to break a bone when they fall.

If you have a disease called osteoporosis, you are more likely to break a bone if you fall. Osteoporosis is called the "silent disease" because bones become weak with no symptoms. You may not know that you have it until a strain, bump, or fall causes a bone to break.

Falls are especially dangerous for people with osteoporosis. If you break a bone, you might need a long time to recover. Learning how to prevent falls can help you avoid broken bones and the problems they can cause.

Why Do People Fall?

Some of the reasons people fall are:

  • Tripping or slipping due to loss of footing or traction
  • Slow reflexes, which make it hard to keep your balance or move out of the way of a hazard
  • Balance problems
  • Reduced muscle strength
  • Poor vision
  • Illness
  • Taking medicines
  • Drinking alcohol.

Illness and some medicines can make you feel dizzy, confused, or slow. Medicines that may increase the risk of falls are:

  • Blood pressure pills
  • Heart medicines
  • Diuretics (water pills)
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Sleeping pills.

Drinking alcohol can lead to a fall because it can:

  • Slow your reflexes
  • Cause you to feel dizzy or sleepy
  • Alter your balance
  • Cause you to take risks that can lead to falls.

How Can I Prevent Falling?

At any age, people can make changes to lower their risk of falling. Some tips to help prevent falls outdoors are:

  • Use a cane or walker
  • Wear rubber-soled shoes so you don't slip
  • Walk on grass when sidewalks are slick
  • Put salt or kitty litter on icy sidewalks.

Some ways to help prevent falls indoors are:

  • Keep rooms free of clutter, especially on floors
  • Use plastic or carpet runners
  • Wear low-heeled shoes
  • Do not walk in socks, stockings, or slippers
  • Be sure rugs have skid-proof backs or are tacked to the floor
  • Be sure stairs are well lit and have rails on both sides
  • Put grab bars on bathroom walls near tub, shower, and toilet
  • Use a nonskid bath mat in the shower or tub
  • Keep a flashlight next to your bed
  • Use a sturdy stepstool with a handrail and wide steps
  • Add more lights in rooms
  • Buy a cordless phone so that you don't have to rush to the phone when it rings and so that you can call for help if you fall.

You can also do exercises to improve your balance. While holding the back of a chair, sink, or counter:

  • Stand on one leg at a time for a minute and then slowly increase the time. Try to balance with your eyes closed or without holding on.
  • Stand on your toes for a count of 10, and then rock back on your heels for a count of 10.
  • Make a big circle to the left with your hips, and then to the right. Do not move your shoulders or feet. Repeat five times.

How Can I Prevent Broken Bones if I Fall?

Sometimes you cannot prevent a fall. If you do fall, you can try to prevent breaking a bone. Try to fall forwards or backwards (on your buttocks), because if you fall to the side you may break your hip. You can also use your hands or grab things around you to break a fall. Some people wear extra clothes to pad their hips or use special hip pads.

How Can I Keep My Bones Healthy?

Some ways to protect your bones are:

  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D each day.
  • Walk, climb stairs, lift weights, or dance each day.
  • Talk with your doctor about having a bone mineral density (BMD) test.
  • Talk with your doctor about taking medicine to make your bones stronger.

Recommended Calcium and Vitamin D Intakes

Life-stage group Calcium mg/day Vitamin D (IU/day)
Infants 0 to 6 months 200 400
Infants 6 to 12 months 260 400
1 to 3 years old 700 600
4 to 8 years old 1,000 600
9 to 13 years old 1,300 600
14 to 18 years old 1,300 600
19 to 30 years old 1,000 600
31 to 50 years old 1,000 600
51- to 70-year-old males 1,000 600
51- to 70-year-old females 1,200 600
>70 years old 1,200 800
14 to 18 years old, pregnant/lactating 1,300 600
19 to 50 years old, pregnant/lactating 1,000 600

Definitions: mg = milligrams; IU = International Units
Source: Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 2010.


For More Information About Osteoporosis and Other Related Conditions:

The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases~National Resource Center acknowledges the assistance of the National Osteoporosis Foundation in the preparation of this publication.

For Your Information

This publication may contain information about medications used to treat the health condition discussed here. When this publication was printed, we included the most up-to-date (accurate) information available. Occasionally, new information on medication is released.

For updates and for any questions about any medications you are taking, please contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Toll Free: 888–INFO–FDA (888–463–6332)
Website: http://www.fda.gov

NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center

2 AMS Circle
Bethesda,  MD 20892-3676
Phone: 202-223-0344
Toll Free: 800-624-BONE (2663)
TTY: 202-466-4315
Fax: 202-293-2356
Email: NIHBoneInfo@mail.nih.gov
Website: http://www.bones.nih.gov

The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center provides patients, health professionals, and the public with an important link to resources and information on metabolic bone diseases. The mission of NIH ORBD~NRC is to expand awareness and enhance knowledge and understanding of the prevention, early detection, and treatment of these diseases as well as strategies for coping with them.

The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center is supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases with contributions from:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).


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