Fear of Falling

I fell on my stairs last week. Truth be told, I was going down the stairs in the dark when I fell, wearing slippery slippers and texting as I went. Basically, I was asking for it this time. But it wasn’t the first fall, and I doubt it will be the last. For many of us who have MS, falling seems to be part of the package.

I was diagnosed last winter, but I’ve been falling for years. I’ve skinned knees and elbows. I’ve ripped some really good jeans. I’ve twisted both ankles. I’m lucky – I haven’t needed stitches or broken bones. But in retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t wonder earlier what was going on. Most people don’t have so much trouble staying on their feet.

Since my diagnosis, I haven’t fallen more often, but I’ve worried about falling a lot more. I worry that if I fall again, I’ll hurt myself in a more serious way. Or that if I fall again, I’ll be one hundred percent more embarrassed than I would have been before. Or that now my friends and family wouldn’t laugh and call me a klutz. Instead, they would worry. The laughing is fine with me. The worry would not be.

So now I watch where I’m going. I hold on tight to the railings when I’m on the stairs. If there aren’t railings available, I hold on tight to a friend. I gave my high heels to my sister. For exercise, I walk on a track instead of on the sidewalk, because it has a nice smooth, relatively soft surface. Despite my recent misadventure, I actually do try not to do dumb things like text on the stairs in the dark. It’s tiresome having to think about this all the time, but I think it goes with the territory these days. 

Last week, I also fell playing frisbee with my son. We both raced to pick up the frisbee, he dived onto the ground in front of me. I fell over him and then he rolled over me in a tumble of fleece, grass, fall leaves and seven-year-old giggles. For all the times that I resent having to be careful, it is nice to be reminded that not everything is about MS. Sometimes a fall is just part of the fun, and not worth a second thought. 
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Katie Jennings, Blogger

Katie Jennings keeps busy juggling a son, a husband, a job, an old house, a bossy cat and unpredictable Vermont weather. She was diagnosed with progressive relapsing MS in December 2012. She blogs about all of it at http://steadyshegoes.com.

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  • Deborah Conway   Nov 19, 2013 9:55 AM
    I have also suffered some pretty big falls, lacerating my arm and falling down my inside stairs breaking my right leg and spraining both feet and ankles. I tend to laugh it off but do worry and I know my family also worries. Like you I have learned to modify activities bit I also keep the fun things in life. My MS is part of my life but does not define it.
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    mud909  Nov 19, 2013 10:01 AM
    I have to be mindful now. I will just fall over on flat ground while I am hanging out talking to people. Stairs are something I have to be very careful with. With just a momentary lapse in concentration and I am going down.
  • jkaetzel  Nov 19, 2013 10:02 AM
    As a recently diagnosed "patient", I get you. I've always been "clutzy", getting more so as I got older. I gained a lot of weight, and blamed that. But when you all of a sudden have no feeling from the waist down and then floor's coming up to meet you, it gets REALLY frustrating! My 7 year old watches me like a mother hen now since he was with me for the bloodiest fall. I hate that my kids worry and always try to make light of it, but I overheard the 7 &9 year olds plotting getting a cane for mommy for Christmas. SO not ready for that!
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    A_J_  Nov 19, 2013 10:07 AM
    I wear an alert necklace...it has a gps so it alerts 911 even if I'm not home and cannot talk to the 'port' that is in my kitchen. It is a way of life and a necessary evil, but it makes me and my husband feel better and safer when I'm alone, think about getting one, ms isn't going away:(
  • Sarah K   Nov 19, 2013 10:19 AM
    I've been having troubles with this as well. I was diagnosed last October with RRMS. I'm like you; I've always been clumsy. Last weekend I fell. Same kind of thing. I was drunk, going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. My foot slipped on the rug and I fell backward into the toilet. I had a long, dark bruise accross the middle of my back. I had similar questions: Was it my drunk self? Was it my clumsy self? Was it the MS? I've gone to the bathroom plenty of times in the middle of the night after an evening of drinking and never fallen backwards into the toilet. It brings up so much self doubt ...
  • deannay  Nov 19, 2013 10:24 AM
    I've had MS for 23 years and now I am in a secondary progressive stage. I use a quad cane and sometimes a walker when the situation allows. I don't fall anymore. I'm terrified of breaking a hip or doing some extensive damage to myself that would further complicate my life. I'm only 51 and am often asked if what ever device I'm using bothers me. Truth is, I tell them and mean it, I can go further faster with the device than without it, so in my mind it is my best friend. I know a lot of people don't want to use these devices because of stigma or because they are working. When I was working I told people I just had a little inner ear problem that caused me to be a little off balance. My employer seemed happy that I was not falling at work as a result of this "Inner Ear" problem. When people asked me about why I walked a little funny, I would respond that I really don't know, I've just always walked this way. Now that I'm not working, I'm out of the closet so to speak, I tell them I have M.S, and I don't want to fall down.
  • PamM   Nov 19, 2013 10:31 AM
    I've fallen an I can't get up is no longer funny. With MS I have to constantly be careful. Last week I was rushing out the door with my hands full and slipping on my shoes. My husband wanted me to hand him the stuff in my hands but I charged for the door. I opened the door and immediately fell forward twisting my foot but luckily grabbed the front of the car. At the same time I felt my husbands hands wrap around my waist. This time I didn't go down but I scared myself and my husband again. It is frustrating to constantly think about each step you take!
  • ndlegaspi  Nov 19, 2013 10:42 AM
    Look into a free from falls class. I learned a lot, you may think oh I know what causes my falls. But this class helps you with skills that sometimes are just simple pre thought. Great class
  • Vio   Nov 19, 2013 10:44 AM
    Tai Chi can help finding balance and being balance everywhere. In tai chi classes we are working on that very much, and it helps me, really. :) Try it. (taoist.org)
  • Delinda   Nov 19, 2013 10:48 AM
    I don't mind the falling so much - it's the getting up that always scares me because I need to have people help me up and sometimes I have to lay on the floor until someone finds me - It's been a good lesson for me though - It's important to get the cob webs off your ceiling too. LOL
  • Diane   Nov 19, 2013 11:05 AM
    I have fallen a couple of times lately. Thank God I was in the house for them and not out walking! I've been using a cane for about three years and didn't mind it. I could always joke and say, "I've got a cane, and I'm not afraid to use it!" so people will wonder if I really do know how to use my martial arts cane (I do).

    A couple of weeks ago, my symptoms worsened and I now have to use a walker. Somehow it doesn't have the same effect when I say I have a walker and I know how to use it!
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    Bobo  Nov 19, 2013 11:08 AM
    Ah, falling. Officially diagnosed 14 years ago, but I did the falling for years before. I blamed falls on hurrying too much, carrying too much, slippery shoes, tiredness, etc. Now I watch my balance more, but also have learned better control after working with a personal trainer at local Y. Thanks, Jarrell! When I'm with my husband, I usually take the elbow that he offers as a matter of course. When alone shopping, I usually take my cane. It saves a lot of hassles related to tripping/loss of balance, and I've noticed others clear the way when I'm using the cane. People can be very considerate and kind! Cheers.
  • Irene Bates   Nov 19, 2013 11:08 AM
    I was told in December of 2012 that I have MS; not the best news I could get but if explained why my left leg had progressively gotten weaker and I was not able to go up the stairs, but only one stair at a time. I have progressive MS.
    I live on the second floor of a Condo Complex, and for years, never thought I would want to move, but now, I need to go down the stairs, one at time. I have a quad cane and I have a brace for my left leg, so, there is no missing that I have to take is slow. I get up earlier than before to give myself enough time to get dressed and ready for work. MS, is something now I have to include as part of my life and work around it.

    At work I am on the third floor, thank God for elevators, but I do fear the occasional fire drill, as I still have to go down the stairs.
  • tarbororms  Nov 19, 2013 11:14 AM
    All of us remember the commercial on TV. "Help, I've fallen and can't get up commercial." Welcome to the MS world. My feelings exactly if up and about day or night. Weebles wobble & they do fall down!
  • marg1331  Nov 19, 2013 11:16 AM
    Misdiagnosed for over20 years! Replaced knee, falls falls fallS!
    Broke my wrist this time! Be careful.
  • Jay McMahon   Nov 19, 2013 11:16 AM
    My worst fear of falling was falling down and breaking my hip. So of course I was given the chance to face my fear last April. The first thing I dd once I was stable was to call my MS doctor and ask if there was life after the fall. She said yes she add a few others who had survived. I started the long climb to get back to being able to walk with a cane. I spent two months in a rehab hospital and 4 months with out patient PT. I am now back to walking with a cane and opening doors for ladies. The one advantage to the journey was having beautiful ladies of all ages rushing to open doors for me.
    There is life after the fall. I am weary from the journey, I pretty much lost a year of my life. I am busy trying to insert myself back into society. I am a stronger person and planning to enjoy the rest of my life.
  • Gary Lynch   Nov 19, 2013 11:18 AM
    Falling is not the problem. Getting up ...
  • Anne Swanson   Nov 19, 2013 11:27 AM
    Hi, it's nice to hear from someone who has to spend to so much time worrying about what might be..., though it goes without saying I am very sorry for your diagnosis. I too live in Vermont. I was diagnosed in Jan. 2005 at age 19. My first few years were okay except for the occasional relapses that were quelled by steroids. There's a negative correlation between my disease and my life though. Now, I am back at home living with and depending upon my parents. Anyways, thanks for sharing. It's nice to be reminded I'm not as alone as I often feel.
  • Anne Swanson   Nov 19, 2013 11:27 AM
    Hi, it's nice to hear from someone who has to spend to so much time worrying about what might be..., though it goes without saying I am very sorry for your diagnosis. I too live in Vermont. I was diagnosed in Jan. 2005 at age 19. My first few years were okay except for the occasional relapses that were quelled by steroids. There's a negative correlation between my disease and my life though. Now, I am back at home living with and depending upon my parents. Anyways, thanks for sharing. It's nice to be reminded I'm not as alone as I often feel.
  • James   Nov 19, 2013 11:37 AM
    My occupation was home improvements and renovations I climbed ladders walked scaffolds 30 feet off the ground walked across rafters and beams for 25 years now I cant walk across my living room with out tripping over the littlest thing And within the last few months I took some bad falls at night outside my house at night do to tripping over something I was never like this and the main reason it I'm either to fatigued to move the hazard in the first place or I totally forget that its there
  • Trish   Nov 19, 2013 11:59 AM
    Same with my Husband. Twisted ancle and all. Still took years for diagnosis.
  • clsuhre  Nov 19, 2013 1:44 PM
    Some of you talk about slippery shoes - I have a problem with shoes that have too much traction, like running shoes. They stick to the floor, while the rest of me sails on forward and down. I switched to Keds - they are flat, tie onto the feet so they don't fall off, and they don't stick. Haven't fallen since I have begun wearing them daily. (Knock on wood!) Also, thank goodness for handrails and helpful hubby! I have also overcome my shyness about touching other people's cars on the way to my own in the parking lot. I am careful not to scratch anyone's paint, but I use the other cars to maintain verticality.
  • Stephanie   Nov 19, 2013 1:57 PM
    As a kid I had scrapes on my legs, many many sprained ankles, hurt my tailbone, I couldn't climb a tree because of balance, and I could never do a cartwheel so its been in me forever. I fell once in public at Aldi's people came to helo me up, I misjudged the curb and boom down I went. Now, I walk slow, I watch the ground I try to be aware of where I am, and always get a cart when shopping. I can't carry everything in one trip, to carry things up and down the stairs I use a basket with a handle. For me its slow but steady
  • Stephanie   Nov 19, 2013 1:57 PM
    As a kid I had scrapes on my legs, many many sprained ankles, hurt my tailbone, I couldn't climb a tree because of balance, and I could never do a cartwheel so its been in me forever. I fell once in public at Aldi's people came to helo me up, I misjudged the curb and boom down I went. Now, I walk slow, I watch the ground I try to be aware of where I am, and always get a cart when shopping. I can't carry everything in one trip, to carry things up and down the stairs I use a basket with a handle. For me its slow but steady
  • Kia   Nov 19, 2013 3:11 PM

    I took a fall two weeks ago, and then a second time the next week. Fell on the same spot. Sad to say, but nice to know, I am not the only falling!
  • Angel   Nov 19, 2013 3:16 PM
    I used to be so graceful in my life prior to MS. I also had to give up my high heels that I loved. Falls happen everywhere now. One of my dogs runs me over and knocks me over almost daily. I look like a battered woman I have so many bumps and bruises covering my body. I've been fortunate not to break anything, but I lean on walls, hold rails as if my life depends on it, and lean on my husband.
  • Kathryn   Nov 19, 2013 3:32 PM
    I am terrified of falling..not just because I will probably hurt myself but the I cant get up by myself if I am alone..My Dr told me to always carry my mobile phone with me so I can call for help.I fell a few weeks ago in the bedroom and lay there for a while saying to myself"i am not hurt so don't need to call anyone" My husband was due home in about 2 hours so after a long long time trying I managed to pull myself up by grabbing at the bed ...i kept collapsing back in a heap.,would lie back down,have a rest and try again The funny thing was my cat Jaspurr was really concerned and howled and kept wanting to sit on me which gave me the giggles..it took me just over an hour to get onto the bed
    I also walk looking down at the ground and don't wear shoes unless I need to as they make my walking a lot worse.By the way I have secondary progressive ms..use crutches or a walker when I am outside and at home our house has things well positioned for holding on to
  • Deniece   Nov 19, 2013 4:44 PM
    I wish I had to worry about falling....:( No, I am in a wheelchair full time. So, if you are not, just be careful, and be thankful you aren't...
  • Panda   Nov 19, 2013 4:59 PM
    I twisted my ankle and it was not due to lack of balance, but I blame MS because I was kind of delirious in the heat of the day and my vision was bad. I basically had a case of not knowing there was a curb in front of me. I also have been accused of being drunk because my balance can get bad. I've never straight up fallen because of that but have tripped on well... nothing. It will be ok but this is spot on about how much that thought exists in the back of your mind CONSTANTLY!
  • Nancy   Nov 19, 2013 5:46 PM
    I know the falling thing too well, it took 25 yrs. for a diagnosis and now my friend understands why I fell so much when we went out in our younger days! LOL I have had my knees replaced and have one heck of a time getting up! My last big fall was going to pay for gas and my cane got stuck in a crevice, I fell face first onto the cement, fractured my jaw, and had to have a partial due to 4 cracked teeth! It took me 20 minutes to figure out how to get up with these knees!I know the people eating lunch across the street had a good laugh looking at my butt! Needless to say I have reverted to a walker for stability outside! I do always look down and hang onto walls when I don't use it though! Good luck, and stand tall, remember what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!
  • rob r.   Nov 19, 2013 5:48 PM
    Guys theer is a cure for ms!! Its calle dthe Liberation therapy. Dotn suffer anymore. GEt it done. Find a center....Im plannign to have it done! people have gotten up form wheelchairs after it!!
  • rob r   Nov 19, 2013 5:53 PM
    Dont you guys know that a cure is here? the Liberation therapy has cured many MS'ers who have ccsvi. Tehre are also stem cells abroad where you can have it done to restore youselves. What ru guys watign for?
  • Kimmy   Nov 19, 2013 6:06 PM
    It was actually a fall down the stairs at work that led to my MS diagnosis. I was just going about life as usual. It was hot and the summer heat always makes me feel bad. I wasn't paying attention on the stairs and did the "miss the last step" manuever thinking I was at the bottom, but I had one more to go. What I didn't realize until later was I didn't actually "feel" the stairs because I lost sensation in my feet. It was the work comp doc that notice I had weakness in both ankles. She sent me to an ortho who diagnosed me with foot drop and muscle atrophy, which led to a referral to a neuro who diagnosed me with MS. All in a span between August and October of this year. I got the news on my birthday 10/9/2013. Now I am so afraid of stairs, but it has made me more conscious and careful for sure.
  • Sherry   Nov 19, 2013 6:13 PM
    I was always clumsy as a child. In later years I learned that I had MS since I was a small child. Anyway, recently, I was in my hallway and had actually stopped to look down at whatever it was I had in my hand at the time. Suddenly, I starting falling over - kind of like a tree would - just straight over. I was so blessed because I had turned a little to one side and as I fell, I hit the wall which broke my fall a little. I fell completely down onto the floor. My husband came to my rescue to help me up. Again I was blessed that I had absolutely no injuries. I didn't even bruise, which is saying a lot for me. I went about my business for the rest of the day, but my neurologist did have to increase my baclofen because of this fall since I had been experiencing increased spasticity before this incident.
  • murphy   Nov 19, 2013 6:28 PM
    I have fallen many, many times. I do not think MS causes the falls, per se, but it does make it more difficult to stay upright and to pull ourselves out of a fall once we start into one. I have broken bones 3 times; the last time I had to have knee surgery to pin and plate the knee back together. Afraid of falling? You bet!
  • Gert   Nov 19, 2013 7:25 PM
    So glad you weren't hurt worse then you were. I've had MS since 1977. But wasn't diagnosed until 1996! I fell often, especially up the stairs....😊 I too was always a klutz...and never questioned it. I always remember going to work one morning, I caught my toe on the raise in the concrete...and Boom...down I went right on my lunch...which included an orange! I had to laugh that I always said I squeezed fresh orange juice this morning!! 😉

    Stay strong and enjoy your life!

  • Naomi   Nov 19, 2013 7:54 PM
    I am 50, have been diagnosed for 20 years, and have been falling as long as I can remember. usually sprains and scrapes. no broken bones, til the last fall. I was coming downstairs immediately after waking to get ready for work. I mis-stepped about half way down. my leg curled under me as I slid the rest of the way. I got my foot x-rayed as soon as I was out of work.( yes I hobbled to the shower and went to work) the doc couldn't see a break in my toe on the x-ray but commented "it sure looks broke" it was turning black and blue almost immediately. I now sleep on the main level of the house and seldom go upstairs.
  • ann marie   Nov 20, 2013 3:24 AM
    I am in the process of moving into a new home and the other day I went down the basement stairs, when I say down I mean fell right down LOL. Thankfully there was a nice big dirt wall in front of me to catch me. I too have fallen quite a few times over the last few years but this one really scared me. I havent even told anyone yet and not so sure I should. I was bruised up for a few days but seem to be ok.
  • ssarnowski   Nov 20, 2013 3:52 AM
    always on my mind. I avoid elevators also Terrified of missing the step.Grassy areas seem unstable even shoes with to much cushion cause me to feel unbalanced and wobbly. Losing ones sense of balance is hard on everyday nlife.
  • Maureen   Nov 20, 2013 6:38 PM
    I fell last week and skinned my knee. Not a big deal. In January, I fell and my glasses cut my nose. An ambulance was called, I got a few stitches in my nose and took a taxi home - the worst part of the night - expensive.
  • Erin   Nov 20, 2013 7:37 PM
    Omg! This article is funny! I'm laughing because it is so me! I fall all the time and trip over air. Stupid MS! I just laugh at myself, get up and continue on. I have kept my heals though. I can't seem to part with. I work in a hospital so if I fall and hurts self I'm in the right place. Lol. I bring flat shoes too. This way I can wear flats when my legs and feet don't want to cooperate. Besides it doesn't matter what type of shoes I wear if my legs want to give out they will give out no matter what I have on my feet or not gave on my feet. My youngest laughs at me when I fall where as my oldest gets upset. He works at the hospital with me and has a better understanding of MS. My boyfriend pulls me by the hand when I have a hard time walking up a hill or pushes me up stairs to help me. Lol. Overall I control MS through paleo diet and daily exercise. I don't let MS control me. I don't take any disease modifying meds either.
  • jamleading   Nov 23, 2013 4:34 PM
    Okay so confirmed diagnosed after optical neuritis and today at the movie theater I fell at the last step yep that darn right leg. How embarassaing? Oh and my family Doctor was the first to me. Not a word was spoken from my teenage daughters on the twenty mile trip home.
    Will it get better once on treatment?!?
  • Claire   Nov 26, 2013 6:49 AM
    I am waiting on a referral to a neurologist as my GP thinks I could have MS - I think the falls kind of give it away. Finding them a bit scary at the moment, I had a pretty bad one over the weekend which involved ricocheting from a table to a wall and then twisting as I fell to the floor. Hoping to get a diagnosis soon x
  • David Price   Jun 24, 2015 1:50 PM
    I am a 69 year old male that had no signs of M.S. until my primary doctor sent me to a nurologist. he than did some more tests to confirm it was M.S.
    A few days ago I started to fall and bang into things,I started to turn black and blue and started to swell up.I am going to see my doctor this week and I am hope full that he will be able to come up with a diagnosis.
  • Laraine   Sep 19, 2015 10:31 PM
    i have had MS for 37 years. I would say it's been pretty easy until the last 12 months when I started falling and losing my balance a lot. Now I'm scared of walking at all, at least by myself. Don't know how to cope with this decline. Need help!
  • Cheri   Jan 4, 2017 12:06 PM
    Thank for sharing your story. I have MD and was signposted in 2005. I have had many falls over the years but there has always been someone around. I had back surgery in aug 2015 which just made things worse. The falls are more often and for no apparent reason. Usually I can call my kids, but today I fell and my daughter works and hour away and couldn't just up and leave, my son it out of town. So I didn't know why to do sonic called 911. I told them it wasn't an emergency, they were wonderful and arrived in 5 mins to help me. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. And now I am just scared of it happening again. So who do I call when this happens? How do I step out of the fear?
  • MYTHILI SAMPATH   Feb 10, 2017 4:15 PM
    Hi, I am Mythili Sampath visiting US my daughters. Last week i fell on the road and got my right leg bruised very badly. First three days i took rest then two days i walked with walker. Now I am practising walking with cane. x ray showed no fracture or ligament tear. Though the condition has improved a lot now, i find my left leg while walking with stick not able to lift smoothly and i almost drag or slight jump. Because my right leg is very heavy while walking. How can this be goteen over? I am taking Tylenol and Arnical 200CK
  • MYTHILI SAMPATH   Feb 10, 2017 4:22 PM
    I am visiting US my daughters. Last week while walking i tripped and fell on the road.Luckily x rays showed no fracture or ligament tear.But my right leg is heavily bruised and injured so I was advised crepe bandage, icing and rest for 3 days. Then i started walking with walker with great difficulty. For the last two days I am practising walking with cane. While doing so I find mine is not a smooth walk but looks like little mild hopping. Because of my injured right leg which is heavy, I find my left leg does not lift up normally while walking. I am on Arnica 200CK and tylenol. what should I do to walk smoothly and climb up stair/ How long is the healing process