6 People Who Need a Handrail Hero
Handrails are mobility solutions that can stop us from tripping and falling on the stairs, hurting ourselves (and potentially others) and causing damage to our homes. While we don’t often stop to think about how frequently we use handrails, these accessibility solutions are essential parts of our homes. In one of our previous posts, we even referred to handrails as unsung heroes.
But who needs a hero?
In most stories, the person in need of a hero is the quintessential damsel in distress. You might think to yourself, “I’m no damsel in distress! I don’t need rescuing!” And that may be true to a certain extent. However, more of us need a handrail hero than we realize. Read on to find out if you need your own knight-in-handrail-armor.
Damsel 1: Pregnant Mothers
The first kind of “damsel” on the list is an actual damsel. Pregnant women need to be more careful than other people when choosing which activities to take part in. Most people know that pregnant women should not partake in dangerous activities where they could fall, like horseback riding or skiing.
However, pregnant women also need to be more careful about their movements even in everyday life. While horseback riding and skiing are not daily activities for many people, common things like running or biking are activities that women might need to be more cautious about when pregnant.
Another seemingly innocuous activity that requires pregnant women to exercise more caution is taking the stairs. While many young people bound blithely up the stairs with wanton disregard for mobility solutions like handrails, pregnant women are advised to take stairs slowly and always hold the handrail. The reason is probably obvious: tripping and falling on the stairs when pregnant can cause injury not just to the woman navigating the stairs, but to the baby as well.
The reason pregnant women might have more trouble on the stairs (or even just when walking!) is because, according to Jennifer Kelly Geddes, contributing author for What to Expect, “your growing belly shifts your center of gravity forward, making it harder for you to stay upright, especially on uneven surfaces…” (Geddes).
Another issue that pregnant women must contend with is loosening joints. Geddes says, “the closer you get to delivery, the looser your joints become due to the pregnancy hormone relaxin…your loose joints can also make you unstable on your feet (read: clumsy) and more likely to have an accidental fall” (Geddes). Holding the handrail can reduce the likelihood of a fall, making pregnant women one of the groups of people most in need of a handrail hero.
Damsel 2: Small Children
Pregnant women are not the only ones who need handrails. In fact, after the baby is born, handrails become even more important!
Everyone longs to see their baby’s first steps. People celebrate such milestones with much handclapping, encouragement, and…installation of baby gates. As any parent knows, a home with stairs must also have a baby gate to keep their little one safe. Crawling and/or just-walking babies and toddlers don’t have the
cognitive abilities to understand the dangers that staircases pose, so we keep them well away from the stairs.
But sooner or later, that baby or toddler grows into a small child, capable of navigating the stairs by themselves. Parents remove the baby gate and take stock of the staircase, checking that there are no small objects on the steps and that the handrail is screwed tightly into the wall. According to the International Code Council, homes only need to have a handrail on one side of the stairs, and that handrail should be mounted 34 to 38 inches above the nosing of the stairs.
While separate handrails for children are not required in private dwellings, handrails for children should be mounted 28 inches from the top of the stair to the top of the handrail (Inline Design).
Because children are still learning the limits of what they can and cannot do, they are more likely to experience trips, stumbles, and falls in all areas of life. The stairs are no exception. According to an article written by Misti Crane for the Columbus Dispatch, “Each year, an average of more than 93,000 children younger than 5 go to a hospital for injuries suffered on stairs, according to a study published online today by the journal Pediatrics” (Crane).
Regardless of whether one decides to add a separate handrail for their child or not, children should be encouraged to hold on to the handrail when going up or down stairs, which means that every set of stairs in the home should be accompanied by a handrail hero.
Damsel 3: Parents of Small Children
As we’ve established, homes with small children should have handrails to supplement their staircases. However, small children are not the only people who should use those handrails. Parents of small children are also at risk of falling down the stairs.
While parents of small children become adept at multitasking and surviving on a little sleep and a lot of coffee, no amount of coffee can prevent a fall on the stairs. In fact, drowsiness can contribute to clumsiness or distractedness when walking, according to a study published in Scientific Reports, which can result in more accidents, especially when descending a staircase.
Parents of small children are also often trying to do multiple things at once, including using the stairs at the same time as another parent or child in the home. While staircases in private dwellings are not usually wide enough for more than one person to use at a time, sometimes it is impossible for a parent to make sure that they are going up or down stairs alone.
Having small children also increases the likelihood that small objects will find their way to the staircase, almost as if by magic. And as anyone who has ever stepped on a Lego knows, stepping on a Lego while on the stairs means that it will be nearly impossible to stay upright. Having a handrail to grab onto will keep you (hopefully!) from falling headlong down the stairs.
Damsel 4: People with Pets
Small children are not the only tiny creatures that can add to the danger of navigating stairs; pets also possess the potential to send people sprawling. While more research needs to be done on the possible negative impacts of pets, a study from 2010 shows that pets are connected to more than 80,000 emergency room visits a year.
Pet ownership has only increased over the last decade, which means it is likely that pets are connected to more emergency room visits than the figure above. Currently, “66% of U.S. households (86.9 million homes) own a pet,” says Michelle Megna in an article for Forbes Advisor. She contends that “Pet ownership has increased significantly over the past three decades. In 1988, only 56% of U.S. households owned a pet…[and] 78% of pet owners surveyed by Forbes Advisor acquired pets during the pandemic.”
While pets can provide many benefits to their owners, pet owners need to keep in mind the safety risks animals can pose. Dogs, especially larger ones, can easily knock down a human, and cats are notorious for getting underfoot. These issues are exacerbated when a person is navigating the stairs. Having a handrail in place—and making sure to use it—will help mitigate the risks a beloved pet might pose.
Damsel 5: People Who Lack Mobility
Pregnancy, small children, pets—all of these are external factors that can make navigating the stairs more difficult. But what about when the issue is internal?
As we all know, everyone loses mobility as they age. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, “starting at the age of 40, all of us lose about 10% to 15% of [our] muscle mass. The likelihood of falling increases steadily across a person’s lifespan, starting from the age of 40 and progressing through the ages of 50, 60, 70 and 80” (Jayasinghe).
While people may not realize their decreasing mobility until aches and pains are prevalent, each year that passes can make navigating stairs riskier. This is especially true when people begin to have trouble with their joints or balance. According to a recent article from UCLA Health, “Researchers have found that balance begins to decline in midlife, starting at about age 50. In one recent study, adults in their 30s and 40s could stand on one foot for a minute or more. At age 50, the time decreased to 45 seconds.”
This news might be sobering to some, as many people like to think that “age is just a number.” While that might be true when it comes to interests like rock music or birdwatching, most people who are over 40 should be more careful about their physical activities, including taking the stairs. Installing mobility solutions in one’s home—like handrails—and making sure to use them can help make sure that a trip to the emergency room is not on the docket for the day’s activities.
Damsel 6: Anyone Carrying Anything (Especially Young Adults)
It might seem obvious, but it’s worth saying: people are less likely to use the handrail when they are carrying something. Many people carry things up and down their stairs every day: bags, laundry, takeout, even children. While this may not seem like a problem in the moment, those who are unable to use the handrail before they lose their balance are more likely to fall and incur injuries, according to a study by HyeYoung Cho, et al.
When someone carrying something does lose their balance on the stairs, they will probably try to maintain their hold on whatever they were carrying; studies show that this is basic human nature, observed even in young infants. This may protect the object or person being held, but depending on the severity of the fall, it might also endanger the object or child as well as the person holding that object or child.
While it may be impossible to avoid carrying things on the stairs, it is advisable to leave one hand free to proactively grasp the handrail, preventing falls before they occur.
It is also worth nothing that women are more likely than men to navigate stairs while holding something. This behavior, among others (like wearing high heels or flip flops or talking with others on the stairs) may account for at least some of the reason that young women experience a high number stair-related injuries, according to the study by Cho, et al. Another reason women might be more at risk is because mothers are also more likely to be in the home and carrying things up and down the stairs, says Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
While it may be surprising, young adults, especially young women, are some of the people who are most in need of a handrail in their homes.
Hold Tight Handrails
Most of the staircases and handrails we’ve been discussing are indoor staircases of more than four stairs where handrails are required, according to the International Code Council. However, all these issues exist for all staircases, even those of three or fewer steps. According to Cho et al., “there is a high occurrence of falls on stairs with less than five steps.”
Garage and patio staircases are often comprised of just a few steps, which means that handrails are not required by International Codes for these areas. The lack of safety features in these places can make them extremely dangerous for people of any age. In fact, according to the Texas State Office of Risk Management, “falls are the second leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. Of these fatal falls, statistics show that nearly half occur on steps and stairways.”
Pregnant mothers are no less likely to fall just because the staircase is short, and the same is true of small children or parents moving from the garage into the house, especially when carrying something! People who have pets know just how dangerous a patio step can be when a fast-moving animal darts out from behind you, and those with decreasing mobility can appreciate how difficult it can be to ascend or descend a staircase of any length.
This is where Hold Tight Handrails come in; we provide handrails for these short staircases that can be easily installed by a homeowner in a matter of minutes. Our handrails screw directly into the door jamb or wall using a patent-pending design, ensuring that the handrail can withstand up to 400 pounds of pressure.
Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a damsel in distress before, it is likely that you fall into one of the categories above, which means that you should consider adding a handrail hero to every staircase in your home to decrease the likelihood of falls.
- There are many people who need a handrail. Some of these people include:
- Pregnant mothers—a woman’s center of gravity shifts, and her joints loosen when she is pregnant
- Small children—more than 90,000 children sustain injuries from falling on stairs every year
- Parents of small children—navigating the stairs at the same time as another person or when objects are on the stairs can increase the risk of falling
- People with pets—pet ownership has increased dramatically in the last 30 years, and navigating the stairs with pets underfoot also increases the risk of falling
- People who lack mobility—people begin to lose muscle mass at age 40 and have trouble with balance at age 50
- Anyone carrying anything—those who grab the handrail only after they lose their balance are more likely to fall and incur injuries
- According to Cho et al., “there is a high occurrence of falls on stairs with less than five steps.” However, stairways of three steps or fewer are not required to have handrails.
- Handrails are the best way to mitigate the risk of falling on stairs, even for short stairways.
- Hold Tight Handrails are cost effective, easily installed, and aesthetically pleasing handrails to add to any short stairways in or outside your home.
Arnold, A. J., & Claxton, L. J. (2017). To drop or not to drop: Newly standing infants maintain hold of objects when experiencing a loss of balance. Journal of Motor Learning and Development, 5(2), 181-192. Retrieved Oct 14, 2023, from https://doi.org/10.1123/jmld.2016-0052
Balance begins to decline as early as age 50. (23 May 2022). UCLA Health. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/balance-begins-to-decline-as-early-as-age-50#:~:text=Researchers%20have%20found%20that%20balance,time%20decreased%20to%2045%20seconds.
Cho H., Arnold A. J., Cui C., Yang Z., Becker T., et al. (2023). Risky behavior during stair descent for young adults: Differences in men versus women. PLOS ONE 18(7): e0288438. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0288438
Crane, M. (2012). Stairs a risky step for young children. The Columbus Dispatch. https://www.dispatch.com/story/lifestyle/health-fitness/2012/03/12/stairs-risky-step-for-young/23897542007/
Geddes, J. K. (2021). Accidentally falling while pregnant. What to Expect. https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/accidental-fall
Handrail height requirements. (2023). Inline Design. https://inlinedesign.com/pages/handrail-height-requirements-ada#:~:text=A%20maximum%20height%20of%2028,for%20Handrails%20designed%20for%20children.
International Building Code. (2021). Handrails (ICC Standard No. 1011.11)
Jayasinghe, N. (2011). Addressing falls prevention among older adults, part I: Understanding why falls happen. Hospital for Special Surgery. Retrieved June 21 from https://www.hss.edu/conditions_addressing-falls-prevention-older-adults-understanding.asp
Megna, M. (2023.) Pet ownership statistics 2023. Forbes Advisor. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/pet-insurance/pet-ownership-statistics/#sources_section
Pandey, M. (2023). Young adults fall down stairs surprisingly often. Women exhibit riskier behavior than men, a study found. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/young-adult-women-falls-stairs-rcna96330
State Office of Risk Management. (2020). Slips, trips, falls on different level surfaces. https://www.sorm.state.tx.us/risk-management/office-safety/slips-trips-falls/different-level/#content
Stevens, J. A., Teh, S. L., & Haileyesus, T. (2010). Dogs and cats as environmental fall hazards. Journal of Safety Research, 41(1), 69–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsr.2010.01.001
Umemura, G.S., Pinho, J.P., Duysens, J. et al. (2021). Sleep deprivation affects gait control. Science Reports, 11(21104), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-00705-9