MS and Falling the ‘Right Way’

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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falling correctly

Uh oh!
My cat, T.J., is under my feet trying to nibble my ankles as I stumble toward the bathroom in the middle of the night. I know what’s about to happen. As I try not to step on T.J.’S tail, it’s already started. I’m going down. It all happens in about three seconds, and how I handle those three seconds will make a big difference in how soon I get up, or if I get up.

I learned how to fall when I took judo lessons as a kid. It’s the first thing you’re taught. Even when you land on a mat, when someone throws you over his shoulder you want to do all you can to try to spread the impact and land on a body part that’s soft, like your side.

Those basic lessons have served me well over the many years that I’ve been tripping over my multiple sclerosis. A recent article in the New York Times confirmed, and added to, the falling techniques that I learned as a kid. Physical therapists, stuntmen, martial arts instructors and paratroopers (all of whom know a good deal about falling) agree on a few things:

  • Protect your head
  • Stay loose and don’t fight the fall
  • Don’t stick your arms out
  • Try to land on your side

Says jiujitsu instructor Paul Schreiner in the Times article: “Accept that you’re falling and go with it, round your body, and don’t stiffen and distribute the energy so you take the fall in the widest area possible.”

The website has put together a well-done series of illustrations about falling properly. Obviously, these are general recommendations. One size doesn’t fit all, but the info should help you grasp the concept.

One trick I’ve learned is that I try to toss my cane away from me if I’m starting to fall. Doing this allows me to avoid falling on the hard metal of the cane. It also frees both of my arms to protect my head and makes it easier to try to fall onto my side.

Says physical therapist Jessica Schwartz, in the Times article, “It’s almost inevitable you are going to fall, so you really should know what to do.”

Do you? Do you have any “tricks” to pass along that might help others?

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.




Lori Robinson avatar

Lori Robinson

This is great information - but what about tripping? When I trip I usually start flailing all over the place because I can't get my balance and it's quite the spectacle. Any suggestions on how to trip gracefully and carefully??

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Lori,

I'm glad you thought the info was useful. I don't know that there is anyway to trip gracefully. I work on not tripping by 1) using a Bioness stimulator to counter my left foot drop and 2) trying to walk as upright as possible. The second is difficult because, worrying about tripping, my natural reaction is to look down as I walk. But I walk much better if I can force myself to keep my head level and my eyes front, rather than down.

If I sense that a trip is unrecoverable then, rather than fight it, I try to turn it into controlled fall. Does that make sense?


Sarah avatar


Hi! Dx in 2015 but falling for years and years. I try to sit down as I fall to land on my butt instead of my arms or head.

Dale Rawson avatar

Dale Rawson

It's not falling down it's a controlled descent to sit on my butt, always looking for landing zones specially when I lose my forward momentum can going downstairs.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Yep. Sort of like flying a light aircraft. Always looking for a place to make an emergency landing, just in case.


Roberta Scott avatar

Roberta Scott

You're probably going to think I'm nuts, but until I read this and Debbie's article, I thought I had cornered the market on MS falling and balance issues.
Although it's good to know that I'm not alone in this struggle, I don't wish what we've gone through on anyone.
Thank you, Ed, for the great instruction on how to fall without half killing myself!! Next time (and, unfortunately, I know there will be one...) I'm going to try to land on my side.
One question that's somewhat related! Where do I send short articles about my PPMS experience. I'm hoping to use humor and relatable daily life issues to help fellow PPMS people.
Thanks for being there!!


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