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Learn How to Fall Safely from Hollywood Stunt Pros

Two stuntmen share their tricks for avoiding injury when a sudden tumble occurs

spinner image Stuntman Stuart F. Wilson, 61 showing how to fall; left inset, Stuart on set; right inset, stuntman Thomas DuPont, 52 filming a fight scene
Stuntman Stuart F. Wilson, 61 showing how to fall; left inset, Wilson on set; right inset, stuntman Thomas DuPont, 52 filming a fight scene

In the new movie Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, you may think you’ll see Harrison Ford perform dangerous physical feats, just as he has in previous Indiana Jones films. Except you won’t. Thanks to his professional stuntmen, Ford, 80, has been able to play the charming adventurer for more than 40 years.

If only each of us had a stunt double for everyday hazards. “Most people trip and lose their balance,” says physical therapist Shantha Nithiananda, clinic director at the Fyzical Therapy and Balance Center in Atlanta, Georgia. “Falls are a leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.”

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Every year, about 36 million falls are reported among people over 65, about 3 million of whom wind up in the emergency room. We asked two highly experienced Hollywood stuntmen — Stuart F. Wilson, 61, who is a longtime stunt double for Bruce Willis and stunted on the last Indiana Jones movie, and Thomas DuPont, 52, who doubled for Harrison Ford in an earlier Indiana Jones movie and did stunts in two Pirates of the Caribbean films, among many others — to share their tips on how to fall safely.

spinner image Stuntman Stuart F. Wilson showing a sideways fall
Stuntman Stuart F. Wilson showing a sideways fall

The sideways fall

It is the number 1 cause of hip fractures, and the mortality risk of patients over age 65 with hip fractures is three times higher than the general population’s. If your feet get tangled ...

Do: Bend your knees, tuck your chin and keep your head lifted. Keep your arms close to your chest. Allow yourself to go limp, and collapse onto the outside of your bottom thigh. Then roll onto your torso and upper back.

Don’t: Fall on the bony part of your hip, which is how hip fractures happen. And don’t plant your arm down when landing, which could easily break your shoulder, elbow or wrist.

spinner image Stuntman Stuart F. Wilson showing a backward fall
Stuntman Stuart F. Wilson showing a backward fall

The backward fall

If a slick floor — or an overly affectionate toddler — sends you flying…

Do: Stumble backward — something we often do ­naturally when we’re losing our balance. As you do, tuck your chin to your chest and try to get your body (especially your butt) closer to the ground. Bend your knees into a deep squat, so you land on your butt, then round your spine and roll onto your back and shoulders. Keep your arms by your sides, out of harm’s way.

Don’t: Look up or extend your neck, which will guarantee that your head hits the ground first. And don’t try to stick your arms out behind you to catch yourself, as that will likely result in a broken wrist.

spinner image Stuntman Stuart F. Wilson showing a forward fall
Stuntman Stuart F. Wilson showing a forward fall

The forward fall

If you trip and start to fall forward, with the ground rushing up to meet your face…

Do: Go limp. Bend your knees and angle them to one side and tuck your chin to your chest, keeping your head tilted away from the ground as you fall. Aim to land on the outside of your thigh. As soon as you hit the ground, keep the movement going as you roll onto the side of your torso and upper back. Think about curling your body as you roll, Wilson says. DuPont agrees: “When you do it this way, you don’t even have to use your hands,” he says.

Don’t: Go stiff and stick your arms out straight in front of you. Falling onto an outstretched hand is the most common cause of wrist fractures in people over 50. “You’re also at risk for breaking a forearm or dislocating an elbow or shoulder,” Wilson says.


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First rule of falling down: Relax!

Sometimes when you begin to fall, you tense up and start to panic, and that’s how you get hurt, says Wilson, who trained with a former protégé of Bruce Lee’s. One trick is to relax into the fall, says DuPont, who honed his self-taught skills with Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art. “Don’t try to stop the fall, especially when you’re older. There is a much greater risk of your bones breaking under this type of pressure.”

The goal here is to spread the impact of the fall over as much of your body as possible, using more cushioned areas such as your butt, thighs and upper back to soften the fall.

​Don’t get up right away

Falling down hurts both our bodies and our pride. “A lot of times, our egos make us want to jump up and let everyone know we are OK,” DuPont says, noting that it’s something he’s been guilty of many times. “You want to shake it off and keep going because your adrenaline is surging.” But the action hormone can also trick you into not noticing that you’re hurt.

Take a few minutes to assess any cuts, bumps and possible breaks to reduce your risk of further injury. “If you pop up right away and then fall again because something is broken or out of place, the second fall could be even worse,” Wilson says.

Video: Steps to Preventing Falls

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