A chance to walk without pain: Reduce fall risks through strength and balance exercises

Patricia Eichhorn stumbled onto a UCHealth class that has helped her walk without pain
May 8, 2017

May 1, 2017 was a big day for Patricia Eichhorn. It was the day she rejoin the UCHealth Aspen Club Walkers after more than two years away.

But her Monday walk was more significant than a social outing with Aspen Club members. Patricia had spent more than two years in pain, and her leg has been too weak to walk more than a few blocks.

“My back would be hurting from my limp, and I would be exhausted,” she said. “Up until I took the Stepping On class, I couldn’t even consider going back.”

More than two years ago, Eichhorn broke her femur just above the knee. Surgery went well, and she was diligent at physical therapy for more than a year. But she still had a limp that would throw her back out of whack and create pain when walking. The muscles in her damaged leg would periodically and unexpectedly give out, and her leg would collapse. Falling was always a concern, she said.

“I missed walking,” she said. “For years — really for most of my life — walking was my biggest activity.”

Before her accident, Eichhorn would speed walk up to six days a week, walking about 4 miles in one hour, and on Sundays, she’d walk 6 miles. But after her surgery, she was in a wheelchair for several weeks while her leg adapted to the metal rod and nine screws that were now a part of her; she never fully recovered.

Then, Eichhorn learned of the UCHealth Stepping On class.

Reduce fall risks through strength and balance exercises

The seven-week class is designed to help older adults reduce their fall risk through strength and balance exercises and gain knowledge about safety practices.

The next Stepping On sessions in northern Colorado are:

  • 9:30-11:30 a.m. Mondays from March 19 through April 30 at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies.
  • 9:30-11:30 a.m. Fridays from March 23 through May 4 at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital.

Call the UCHealth Aspen Club to register at 970.495.8560.

Other classes are offered throughout the year throughout UCHealth.

Have questions?

In metro Denver, contact Laurie.Lovedale@uchealth.org or call 720.848.4805.
In Colorado Springs, contact Lori.Morgan2@uchealth.org or call 719.365.2872.
In Northern Colorado, contact Alison Weston at Alison.weston@uchealth.org or 970.495.7502.

“We build on the information each week, and the class is very group-oriented where the leaders are there to facilitate, not lecture,” said Alison Weston, community health educator in injury prevention with UCHealth Community Health in northern Colorado. “The first thing we do when they come to class is ask them why they are there and what goals they want to reach. For Patricia, that was getting back in the walking group.”

In the first class, a physical therapist helps participants learn eight basic exercises that work on balance and strengthening muscles. In the second week, the therapist returns to help participants modify and start advancing those exercises based on skill and comfort levels. Throughout the course, participants track their home workouts in an exercise log.

“I took the exercise log to another level by creating a chart with a column listing the exercises and a column for each day of the week. When I’d do the exercises, I’d write down how many repetitions I did that day so I could monitor my progress,” Eichhorn said. “I need things like that: accountability and a way to see if I’m making progress.”

And a few weeks into the course, that’s exactly what she saw: progress.

“The first day of the class my leg was so tired from the simple exercises that I grew dizzy from the effort of completing the minimum number of repetitions,” she said. “By the second week of the program, my leg was already growing stronger and the dizziness was gone. After four weeks, two-thirds of my limp was gone. By the end of the seven weeks, my limp was reduced by about 90 percent. … Stepping On class changed my life.”

Throughout the weeks, participants continue with the daily exercises, even adding ankle weights, while learning other skills in class, such as proper footwear, home safety, and medication management, the effect of vision on mobility and balance, and using canes or walkers. In the final weeks, the physical therapist helps with any challenges participants may still be having with the exercises.

“When you get out of physical therapy, like Patricia did, it’s hard to continue on your own,” said Weston. “This group helps to keep you motivated and on task. Participants leave with tools to continue their exercises and keep their fall risk level low; they’ve connected with others in the class for that social support, and we encourage them to look into joining a gym or taking our other classes, such as tai chi, so they can continue their progress.”

Stepping On, then stepping out

And when her circled calendar date finally arrived, Eichhorn was ready.

On May 1, 2017, Eichhorn comfortably walked four times as far as she had been able to walk in years.

“It was a resounding success,” Eichhorn said after her walk. “Even though I did not keep up with the rest of the group nor walk as far as they did, I am very happy.”

To find the Stepping On class closest to you, visit uchealth.org/events.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.