You trip on a crooked sidewalk or slip on a patch of ice. On your way down, you might have time to think about how you're going to land. And how you land matters. In fact, it can make the difference between breaking a bone or walking away bruised but intact.

Related: How to Walk on Ice Without Falling

According to the National Safety Council, slips, trips and falls account for nearly 9 million emergency room visits. This makes falling one of the leading causes of accidental injuries in the United States, and the second leading cause of unintentional death.

Falling is especially dangerous when we're older. (Ever heard someone talk about how young kids bounce? Older adults definitely don't.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says one out of five falls taken by people over 65 results in a broken bone or a head injury.

The right way to take a tumble

A fall can be embarrassing, but it doesn't have to land you in the ER. If you feel your feet slipping out from under you, the best thing to do is try to grab something so you don't go all the way down, advises the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

If there's nothing nearby that's stable enough to latch onto, try holding out your hands to avoid falling. "They'll help you find your balance and keep your body upright. Think of a tightrope walker using a balance bar," Hollywood stuntman Nick Powell said in an interview with Men's Journal.

Related: Ladder Safety: How Not to Get Hurt

If you know you're going to fall, follow this advice.

1. Turn and tuck. If you're going down, protect your noggin by turning your head to the side and tucking your chin down toward your chest, advises the National Ag Safety Database at the University of Florida (NASD).

2. Keep your wrists, elbows and knees bent, says the NASD. Do not try to break the fall with your hands or elbows.

3. Aim to land on your side or buttocks. That's the advice from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. As you go down, twist or roll your body so you land on one of these areas rather than your back. One exception: If you're at risk of fractures because you have osteoporosis or some other bone disorder, it's better to fall onto your rear end, according to the NIH. You could break a hip if you land on your side.

Related: How to Walk on Ice Without Falling

After the fall

These tips for seniors from the NIH are good advice for anyone following a crash landing.

  • Stay on the floor or ground for a few minutes. Take time to make sure you aren't hurt before you get up.
  • If you're OK, roll onto one side. Rest a minute if you need to, then get onto your hands and knees.
  • If necessary, use a stable object such as a chair to help you get up. Crawl to one if there's nothing nearby to grab onto.
  • Bring one foot forward so you're in a kneeling position, and then push your body up to sit or stand.

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