Ankle Torque & Strength in the Elderly: a Study
Ankle muscles – their strength, agility, and flexibility – are crucial factors in maintaining balance for us bipeds. Because of this, it’s important for our ankle muscles to be both supple and strong. If rigid and weak, the chances of falling are greater. Though falling is a danger for everyone, it’s especially of concern in the elderly population. Since we lose bone density as we get older, every fall when we age is to be treated as serious, since incapacitating conditions could occur.
Because of this, a recent study set out to identify the threshold of “torque” and muscle strength needed in the ankles in order to remain stable, and to determine the threshold of torque needed before one’s balance is compromised.
Measuring the Risk of Falling
At the publication of the article, approximately 30% of people over 65 years old and 50% of those over 80 years old fall each year. Orthopedic doctors have known for a while that the center of pressure (CoP) displacement in the ankle correlates negatively with the maximal isometric torque (MIT) of ankle muscles. In other words, the less torque your ankle muscles have, your center of pressure – and thus gravity – increases, leading to an imbalance which ends in a fall.
Reason For Study
As of the publication of this article, however, no study had been conducted to determine how much of a difference there is in the degree of torque between elderly “fallers” and “non-fallers.” Identifying this measurement could help both doctor and patient be aware of the capacity of the patient to potentially lose their balance and fall, and may help the doctor in treating the patient preemptively.
Facts and Indicators of Falling vs. Non-Falling Individuals
An increase in body sway has been generally observed among those who age is a major factor in the increased risk of falling among older adults. To control this body sway while standing upright, humans need the ankle to counter it and keep them upright. Torque allows the one who sways to spring back to balance and prevent falling. It’s a sort of safety mechanism in ankles.
Along with torque, the strength of the ankles’ muscles are an important factor between “fallers” and “non-fallers” among the elderly. The decrease in the maximal strength of ankle muscles – which happens when one ages – may also, therefore, be considered a main cause of postural instability.
Stats and Findings
90 volunteers took part in the study: 21 healthy young adults (app. 24 years old), 12 healthy middle-aged adults (ages approximately around 50 years old), 27 healthy elderly non-fallers (app. 76 years old) and 30 elderly fallers (app. 79 years old). Body weight and height were taken into consideration. The concluded observation was that a threshold below the torque of 3.1 “Newton meters” (a unit of torque in the International System of Units, or commonly, the metric system) and a weight of ?1 kilograms, dramatically diminished postural stability and balance was compromised.
The findings, which may be hard for the average patient to interpret, were concluded to be a significant finding for doctors, and provided support for the previous hypothesis of the importance of torque and muscle strength in ankles. The identification of this threshold, then, makes it possible for doctors to know more precisely who in the elderly population are to be considered at risk of falling. That weakness of the ankle plantar flexor and dorsal flexor muscles in the ankles aggravates postural instability seemed to be quite substantial, according to the findings. It was then concluded that assessing ankle muscle strength in routine clinical practice seems also to be crucial, since falling is an extremely disabling event for older adults. It was suggested that an appropriate fall prevention program specifically designed to enhance the strength of postural muscles are needed in patients the doctors identified as potential fallers. That’s the significance of this study for doctors. How about patients?
What Does This Mean for the Patient?
Well, if you are an elderly person, especially over the age of 75, it seems important you meet with your doctor so that she/he can conduct these measurements regardless if you’ve fallen or not: especially, perhaps, if you haven’t fallen. If you haven’t yet had a scary fall, it may be the best time to visit your doctor and have the torque and strength of your ankle muscles measured. They may catch something that will prevent you from falling. And for those who have suffered falls that have made them hesitant, afraid, and is negatively affecting their lives, this study, we hope, will assure you that with these findings, doctors may significantly help you not only regain your balance to prevent from falling again, but also regain the balance of a healthy lengthening of life.
- T. Cattagni et al., ‘The Involvement of Ankle Muscles in Maintaining Balance in the Upright Posture Is Higher in Elderly Fallers’,Experimental Gerontology 77 (May 1, 2016), accessed February 26, 2016, doi:10.1016/j.exger.2016.02.010, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0531556516300390.
- Thomas Cattagni et al., ‘Ankle Muscle Strength Discriminates Fallers from Non-Fallers’, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 6 (December 19, 2014), doi:10.3389/fnagi.2014.00336.