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Loss of Trunk Control: Safety Tips

Trunk control refers to the ability to control your trunk (torso). It affects your ability to hold your body upright when sitting or moving. Partial or total loss of trunk control can occur as the result of a stroke or a brain or spinal cord injury. It can also be due to certain neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. Loss of trunk control can also be caused by excessive alcohol use or chronic exposure to medications. Loss of trunk control can make falls and injuries more likely. This sheet helps you learn more about how to make up for poor trunk control and keep yourself safe.

Man sitting in wheelchair with safety straps around waist and shoulders.

Trunk Control Is Important for Balance

Normally, your nerves and muscles allow you to sense where your body is and how it’s moving. This helps with balance. Damage to the normal nerve and muscle function in your trunk can make this more difficult. In addition, weak muscles in your trunk can make it hard to keep your body upright and stable. If you have these problems, you’re more likely to have trouble staying balanced. You’re also more likely to have trouble “catching yourself” and avoiding falls if you do become off balance.

Improving Positioning

Proper positioning is crucial to keeping your balance and avoiding injury. For safe positioning, follow these tips:

  • When sitting, have proper support. Sit on a chair with a firm seat, back, and armrests. Sit with your thighs level to the floor and keep your feet flat on the ground. If you’re in a wheelchair, you may need to have it adjusted for proper support. Your health care provider can advise you on the best way to do this.

  • Avoid slumping and leaning. If needed, your health care provider can recommend back supports, chest straps, or other supportive devices to help hold you upright. You’ll be taught how to use these devices safely.

  • Get in the habit of checking your posture often to make sure that you are not slumping or leaning to one side. One way to do this is by looking at yourself in a mirror and adjusting your body position as needed.

  • Don’t rely solely on your strong side. If you have been given exercises, be sure to do those to help strengthen your weaker side. Having one side much weaker than the other increases your risk of falls.

Changing Positions Safely

Falls are most likely to occur when you’re changing positions. This includes reaching, turning, bending, standing up, and beginning to walk. These tips can help you move more safely:

  • Always keep your mobility aids with you. These are types of equipment that may be prescribed to help you get around. They include walkers, canes, crutches, and wheelchairs. Use them as instructed by your health care provider.

  • Before you move, look. Look around for any hazards in your environment, such as objects on the floor. And look down at yourself for a visual check of the position of your torso, arms, and legs.

  • Don’t rush movement. Even if you are sitting safely, simple movements such as reaching for an object could unbalance you and cause you to fall. So, move slowly and carefully. Also, move yourself close to anything you want to pick up. Keep objects you use all the time within easy reach.

  • Be sure rooms have enough light. This helps you see where you are, where you’re going, and objects that might be in your path.

  • Use extreme caution when grasping or leaning on tables, counters, or other objects for support.

  • Know your limits. If you can’t make a movement safely, ask for help.

Working with Your Therapist

A physical or occupational therapist will work with you to develop skills for better trunk control. You’ll learn ways to improve your sense of balance, and body position and movement. Tools, such as mirrors, and other equipment may be used to help with this goal. In addition, you’ll be taught strengthening exercises to improve your muscle strength. Be sure to follow all instructions from your therapist about how and when to do these exercises.


Getting Help If You Fall

You can take steps in advance to get help for a fall if it occurs. This may include the following:

  • Keep a list of emergency numbers near the phone.

  • Always have a way to call for help.

  • Keep a cell phone with you at all times. Or talk with your healthcare provider about how to set up a home monitoring service. This involves wearing a small device around your neck on a chain. If you fall, you can press the button on the device. This alerts emergency responders to come to your aid.




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