Falling correctly

25 Aug

A useful summary from Eugene A Hanson in August 1950 Popular Mechanics:

  • Men have dropped into the sea from astounding heights this way – and lived to tell about it. By keeping toes pointed, body straight during the fall, jumper cuts the water’s surface with almost no resistance.

Land Alive

TWO MEN are trapped by smoke and flames on the fourth floor of a burning building. Leaping from the window is their only possible escape.
One man, even though death is certain in the fire, is afraid to jump. His friend slugs him on the jaw and throws him out of the window and he lands flat on his back. The braver man then leaps out and lands on his feet.

Which of the two men will survive?

It will be the coward who lives, though badly injured, while the man who landed on his feet will be speared through his vital organs by his own thigh bones. Countless cases of men falling from great heights were analyzed by the Navy and it was found that by far the best chance of survival occurred when the victim landed flat on his back. Falling from a lesser height, on the other hand, the least injury will be suffered when the victim, for instance a man falling from the roof of a two-story building, takes the initial shock on his feet but distributes the force of his fall by letting his body roll.

The Navy considered the problem of how to fall safely so important that a special training film was made during the war to teach such know-how. The man who demonstrated the various techniques for falling safely was a former professional tumbler, Bruce Connor, who is now a physiotherapist in Los Angeles and spends a good part of his time teaching paralyzed war veterans how to walk on crutches, and in case of accident how to fall off the crutches without being hurt.

Connor says many lives would be saved and countless injuries avoided if every school child were taught, as part of the physical-education curriculum, how to take a fall properly. He sums up the findings with two bits of advice:

First, always try to roll your body in the direction you are falling; second, always try to land as flat as possible.

This applies to ordinary falls, those which can happen to anyone at any time, just as much as to the more spectacular accidents, Connor makes it clear. He who slips on ice, a rug on a smooth floor or a roller skate usually falls backward, and the point most susceptible to serious injury is the end of the spine. If you remember to try to land flat, you will arch your back and thus keep from landing on the vulnerable tailbone.

In falling forward, on the other hand, the exact technique depends on how fast you are moving. If you trip at ordinary walking speed, you can ordinarily save yourself by, catching your weight on your hands in the push-up position. If you are carrying something, drop it. Don’t try to catch your weight on one arm. You’re likely to break it.

If you fall when running, try to go into a football roll. Twist sideways and land with a rolling motion, hip, side and shoulder taking the first shock, and with knees bent, arms close to the body. If you do this properly, you’ll roll right to your feet again in one smooth motion.

Falling at high speed, as from a running horse, an automobile or train, your best bet is the log roll. Keep the body straight for this, with legs stiff, chin against the chest, elbows over the stomach and hands over the face. The roll must be a perfectly sideways spin, with no end-over-end action that would thump the head against the ground. Pulling in the elbows will help to make the roll less bumpy.

When falling headlong, as when tripping on a stairway or off some elevation, the forward roll is called for. The hands touch first in this roll, and take some of the shock. The chin is tucked against the chest and the shoulders take the main shock as the body rolls forward.

Like all other rules, those on how to fall have their exceptions. If you should slip and fall on a steep mountain slope, you might do well to spread out arms and legs to prevent rolling with the fall, because in this case the rolling might be hard to stop – the exception to the rule about rolling in the direction of the fall. The other rule – try to land as flat as possible – has its exception when the victim is falling from a great height into deep water. In this case, try to land feet first, with toes pointed, elbows hugging the stomach and hands over the face.

As for his advice against the wrong way to fall – don’t ever put out one arm or one leg to break a fall – he couldn’t think of a single exception.

  • In tumbling from a fast moving auto or train, the log roll is the best method of avoiding serious injury. Arms are held close to the body, with the hands sheilding the face during the roll.

  • When you trip, moving at slow speed, extending arms is easiest way to break the fall before landing flat.

  • When you slip, this is the safest way to land. The feet, arms and shoulders rather than the vulnerable base of the spine, will absorb most of the shock.

  • Somersaulting forward is the best way to break a headlong fall.

  • A running fall should be taken by going into a football roll. Hip and shoulder take the impact, and you can roll right back to your feet.


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