Safe landing responses

A fall from standing has sufficient energy to fracture even young, healthy bones. Yet only about 15% of falls in the elderly cause serious injury, and less than 2% cause hip fracture. This appears to be explained largely by the role of “safe landing” responses in allowing us to efficiently absorb the energy of a fall, while keeping impact forces in a safe range, and avoiding contact to crucial areas like the head. In this line of research, we conduct experiments in our “falling laboratory” (where a linear motor is used to produce high-velocity translations of the floor in a room padded with soft gym mats) to address important questions on how people fall. For example, are movement patterns during falling random and unpredictable, or do they involve a consistent sequence of responses designed to avoid injury? How do these responses depend on contextual variables such as environmental features, lighting, or holding an object? Can fall protective responses be modified through training of the type used in Judo (“ukemi”)?

Video demonstrating the "ukemi" fall techique in Judo.

Lab study showing that "black belt" experts do not utilize ukemi during a truly unexpected fall (first trial), but can do so when the fall is expected (second trial).