59 Falling

Patient Falls

In the previous unit on the Strength and Elasticity we learned that lifting and holding heavy objects places quite large force (and resulting stress) on the body, so moving patients puts Jolene at risk for injury.  Jolene must assume that risk because even those forces are small compared to forces experienced when impacting a hard surface during a fall. Therefore, patient falls must be avoided.

  • “Falls with serious injury are consistently among the Top 10 sentinel events reported to The Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event database […] with the majority of these falls occurring in hospitals.
  • Every year in the United States, hundreds of thousands of patients fall in
    hospitals, with 30-50 percent resulting in injury.
  • Injured patients require additional treatment and sometimes prolonged hospital
    stays that increase medical costs by an average of $14,000.”


X-Ray image showing a fractured clavicle (collar bone). Clavicle fractures are a one of the most common injuries resulting from falls. This particular fracture occurred during a car accident. of Image Credit: Clavicle Fracture Left uploaded by Majorkev via Wikimedia Commons


Impacts due to falls are not the only source of large forces.  In fact, any situation involving a rapid change in motion will produce relatively large forces. These include car accidents, collisions between people, jumping, landing, and explosive body movements. As a result, medical professionals and first-responders often treat patients who experience mechanisms of injury (MOI) that involve rapid changes in motion as having spinal and/or internal injuries until confirmed otherwise by medical imaging or complete examination. Before we can analyze the forces associated with rapid changes in motion, we must also learn how to quantify motion itself. Falling provides an excellent place to begin the study of motion, so let’s start there.

Skydiving Free Fall

A group of skydivers falling in various body orientations previous to opening parachutes
Skydivers adjust body orientation to tune fall speed and adjust their relative vertical positions. Image credit:  Skydive Miami by Norcal21jg, via Wikimedia Commons


The time a skydiver spends between leaving the aircraft and opening a parachute is often called the “free fall” time.  During a recreational skydive the “free fall” time is about one minute. The current record “free fall” time of about 5 minutes was set by Alan Eustace in 2014 when he fell from an altitude of more than 135,000 feet. According to the  Paragon Space Development Corporation, “Eustace reached top speeds of over 800 miles per hour. He was going so fast that his body broke the sound barrier, creating a sonic boom that could be heard on the ground.” The jump broke the previous record of 127,852 feet set by Felix Baumgartner in 2012. The 2012 jump was sponsored by GoPro cameras and the video has a much higher production value than the more recent 2014 jump:

Physics Free Fall

Now that we have introduced the skydiver’s use of the term free fall, we need to recognize that physics uses the term free fall in a completely different way, so we will need to be careful to avoid confusion. In physics, and in this book, we use the term free fall to describe the motion of an object when gravity is the only force acting on the object, or any other forces are small enough compared to gravity that we can ignore them without introducing too much error. Skydivers experience significant air resistance, so they are not actually in free fall.

Reinforcement Exercises




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Body Physics: Motion to Metabolism Copyright © by Lawrence Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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