Is walking downhill hard for you?
I have met a number of older adults who were having trouble walking downhill. They told me that they had fallen, could not balance well, or had limited confidence to try to walk downhill.
After working with them to improve their downhill walking, I have discovered five common reasons that make walking downhill hard.
Five Problems that make Walking Downhill Hard
When someone tells me they are having trouble walking downhill, the first thing I check is their glasses.
Loss of balance on downward slopes and steps is a common side effect of using bifocals, trifocals, and progressive lenses. The reading lens can distort your perception of the ground while walking downhill. This has caused a lot of falls for my patients.
If you have bifocals, trifocals, or progressive lenses, I suggest tipping your head down while you walk downhill. With your head tilted down, you will not not be looking through the reading part of the lens.
The other strategy some people use is to lift their glasses up and look underneath their glasses as they walk downhill. I think this is not the best option.
If you have a walking stick, a cane, or handrail, holding on for support may help. You can also hold onto the arm of someone walking next to you, which may improve your safety but ultimately will limit your independence.
The most extreme solution is to split up your glasses into separate distance and reading lenses. Although this choice is more costly and not as convenient to manage two pairs of glasses.
Weakness in the Ankle Muscles When Walking Downhill
Normal aging of the muscles includes loss of strength and muscle mass. Weakness and lack of flexibility in your ankles can also make walking downhill hard.
The small muscles in the feet and ankles are not spared!
I have met many people with weakness in their ankle stabilizing muscles. That is why I developed my eCourse called “Foot Therapy for Fall Prevention.” Many people have improved the control and stability of their feet and ankles with this unique exercise program.
Weakness in the Quadriceps Muscles When Walking Downhill
Weakness in eccentric control of quadriceps muscle makes walking hard.
When your muscle is contracting at the same time that it is lengthening, that is called an “eccentric” contraction. Most of the exercises that people do to strengthen their quadriceps muscle on the front of their thigh involves straightening their knee. That motion of contracting the quadriceps muscle while straightening the knee is a different kind of muscle strength.
Examples of exercises that strengthen eccentric muscle strength of the quadriceps include step downs off a small step and slow controlled partial lunges. In these exercises, the quadriceps is bending while the quadriceps muscle is getting stronger.
That type of exercise may help if walking downhill is hard.
Lack of Core Strength
If your abdominal and back muscles are not as strong as they used to be, that can make walking downhill hard. Normal activities like cleaning the house, raking the leaves, gardening, and carrying groceries may be sufficient to maintain core strength as you get older.
But if you are not doing as many daily chores as you are getting older, you may need specific exercises to improve your core strength. Exercises to strengthen the tummy, back, and waist muscles are an important part of a fitness program for aging adults.
Pilates is a type of exercise that is specifically designed to strengthen the core muscles. Strengthening your ankles, your quadriceps, and your core may help if you feel that walking downhill is hard.
A vestibular problem can also make walking downhill hard. This may be due to a problem with balance, balance reactions, or spatial awareness.
The feeling is that you are not sure which way is up, so it is difficult to orient your body in space on slanted ground.
If that sounds like you, I suggest for you to consult a Vestibular Expert to get your vestibular system evaluated.
This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are 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. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.
I seem to start walking too fast down hill and do not seem able to slow down. Is this common and what causes it? This is on only slight grade and can carryover. To fairly flat terrain.
You may weakness in your calf or soleus muscles, or even possibly a peripheral neuropathy affecting the motor function of your lower legs.
I suggest you consult with a Neurologist who can assess you for motor neuropathy.
If they think it is appropriate, they may refer you to physical therapy for muscle strengthening.
I also offer an e-course for $97 on my other website, for strengthening the feet and ankles. You can find it here.
I hope that helps!
Kim Bell, DPT
I have developed an anxiety about going down escalators. Any ideas?
1) Consult a vestibular provider. You can search using this blog.
2) Consult a Neuro-optometrist. You can use the Doctor Locator tool on this website.
3) Seek professional health care for the anxiety. You can start by talking to your primary care provider and go from there based on his or her recommendations.
Here is an article about the link between anxiety and dizziness.
I hope that helps!