Real life falls not a laughing matter; protect your body, ego

By V. Hauschild, MPH Defense Centers for Public Health AberdeenSeptember 19, 2023

Real life falls not a laughing matter; protect your body, ego
Each year thousands of military personnel injure themselves because of falls from vehicles and equipment, tripping over objects, and slipping on hazardous surfaces like ice, snow or water. Injuries include lacerations requiring stitches, concussions or head injury, sprained ankles, wrists or hands, and broken bones. These often require ER visits and can result in temporary disability and lost duty time for many days or even months. (Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen graphic illustration by Joyce Kopatch) (Photo Credit: Joyce Kopatch) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. –TV and cartoons typically portray slips or falls as comical accidents. But falls are no laughing matter. Falls often cause injuries that require emergency room visits. ER visits can be for lacerations requiring stitches, concussions or head injury, sprained ankles, wrists or hands, or broken bones.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports older adults are at highest risk of severe injury from falls, “slips, trips, and falls,” more simply referred to as “falls,” have also repeatedly been one of the most commonly reported reasons for injuries in the active-duty military population.

“Our most recent annual analysis of active-duty soldiers’ medical records – which was 2021 data - again found that falls were one of the most frequently reported reasons for Army injuries,” says Dr. Anna Renner, a safety engineer who works for the Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen Injury Prevention Branch.

Especially in older adults, the CDC notes that one out of five falls causes a serious injury such as a broken hip bone or a head injury. These injuries can lead to permanent disability or other serious even fatal health conditions among seniors.

Fall-related injuries experienced by military personnel tend to be less severe, but past studies have indicated as much as one-quarter of Army injury hospitalizations were due to falls. Fall-related injuries have been a leading cause of Army medical evacuations from deployment settings. And all military services routinely report ER visits associated with falls even during off-duty activities.

“The 2021 data shows that about 11 percent of the hospitalized injuries were reported to be the result of falls,” says Renner. “Over twice as many fall injuries were treated as outpatient injuries.”

What is unique about military fall-related injuries?

Military data has found fall-related injuries are more common among younger less experienced personnel. A 2022 Army study found that younger Soldiers who were less physically fit were at greatest risk of fall-related injuries.

Reported military fall-related injuries primarily include head injuries and lacerations and sprains, strains, and fractures to ankle, foot, hand and wrist.

Military fall-related injuries can occur during numerous activities some which may be linked to a Service’s specific mission. A 2011 Army study found activities most commonly associated with Soldiers’ falls included parachuting, an Army specific activity, as well as sports and walking on icy surfaces. The Army data found basketball to be a leading sport associated with fall-related injuries followed by snowboarding and football.

That same Army data also found that non-moving Humvees and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles were fall hazards. Data suggested that Soldiers were falling and getting injured while climbing in or out of these taller vehicles. The reported incidents showed that these vehicle-related fall injuries occurred more when Soldiers were also trying to carry something, suggesting that they were not maintaining a three-point contact (two feet and a hand, or two hands and a foot) with the vehicle while climbing.

Safety messaging from the Air Force also indicates that the 3-point contact rule is critical to preventing fall-related injuries when climbing equipment or vehicles.

And all military Services note that fall-related injuries also occur during off-duty activities. Examples include tripping over a dog on the stairs, falling off a stool to reach a cabinet, losing balance and falling down the stairs while carrying a heavy item, slipping on a wet spill on the floor, and tripping over a box on the floor.

It may be hard not to chuckle when reading about fall-related accidents or watching a person fall. But that person might have more than a bruised ego.  While less than 1 percent of active-duty military fall-related injuries are fatal or permanently disabling, the majority of these injuries still result in some temporary disability and lost duty time, sometimes for many days or even months.

How can fall-related injuries be prevented?

Fall-related injuries can be mitigated by maintaining awareness of hazards and activities that pose the greatest risks.


  • Slipping on ice or snow is a leading hazard among both civilians and military personnel.
  • Keep your steps and walkways free of ice by using rock salt or another chemical de-icing compound. Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping.
  • Report slippery areas and black ice and improve local alerts and signage indicating hazard prone areas.


  • Use of ankle braces when participating in basketball is proven to reduce fall-related ankle injuries. This is especially true for players with a history of ankle sprains. Ankle braces can also help prevent injuries when parachuting.
  • Wearing helmets during football, skiing and snowboarding can reduce risk of traumatic brain injuries.


  • Especially when working with large vehicles that involve climbing, always use the ‘3-point contact rule’ with the vehicle.
  • Hold onto the frame of vehicle when entering/exiting, rather than moving parts like the door.


  • Do exercises that make your legs stronger and improve your balance. Tai Chi is a good example of this kind of exercise.


  • Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and be sure to renew your eyeglasses prescription if needed.
  • If you have bifocal or progressive lenses, consider a distance-only prescription for outdoor activities such as walking.


  • Move things you could trip over out of walkways, such as cords and throw rugs.
  • Make sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs.
  • Put railings on both sides of stairs. Consider adding grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower.

And if you do fall – get checked out medically, especially if you hit your head. Injuries may become worse if not treated early.

Additional resources available to military service members and leaders:

The Defense Health Agency supports our Nation by improving health and building readiness—making extraordinary experiences ordinary and exceptional outcomes routine.

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