Your gait refers to the way in which you walk. This includes your stride, how fast you walk, and the way that your hips, feet, and legs move together to help you take each step. When a problem develops with your gaits, such as due to an injury or some other abnormality, it can lead to discomfort when walking, as well as a significant amount of pain.
Gait and balance disorders are incredibly common, especially among older adults, and should be addressed as quickly as possible so to reduce the risk of further injury as a result of a trip or fall accident.
What are Gait and Balance Disorders?
Your gait and balance are intricate in nature. Each relies on the movement of so many different parts of the body, and each are incredibly dependent on a long list of external factors. There are so many different elements that can impact your gait and your balance, from the type of shoes you are wearing to how many hours of sleep you got last night.
Proper gait and ideal balance really do require a full-body effort, utilizing:
- Core Muscles
- Feet, ankles and legs
- Sensory Nerves
When a problem develops in any one of these areas it can lead to difficulty walking, trouble with balance, unsteadiness on your feet, and even dizziness and lightheadedness, which can further complicate your ability to balance.
Causes of Gait and Balance Disorders
Those who have experienced an injury in the past, as well as those who are of increased age, are most susceptible to gait and balance disorders.
The most common causes of gait and balance disorders include:
- Chronic pain
Of courses, there are almost countless reasons as to why one of these concerns may develop, including the development of arthritis, or other causes of joint pain, as well as chronic illnesses and autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, and lesser known diseases such as Guillen Barre and Meniere’s disease. In addition, conditions like peripheral neuropathy, gout, and even a brain tumor or hemorrhage can cause balance disruptions or difficulty walking, which can lead to a gait disorder.
While many of these conditions are chronic illnesses that are frequently outside of your control, there are also a handful of environmental and preventative health issues that can have a negative impact on your balance and gait. This includes troubles like obesity, as well as chronic alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiency, and even lingering pain from an injury to your knees, feet or ankles.
How Physical Therapy Helps Balance and Gait Disorders
In most cases, the issue with balance and gait disorders can be addressed by working with a physical therapist. There are several tests that a physical therapist will do to diagnose the cause of your gait and balance troubles, including hearing tests, testing for inner ear disorder or infection, as well as vision tests. In some cases, abnormal eye movement can contribute to difficulty with balance, but in other situations, the problem is based on something more physical.
Your physical therapist will identify what is causing trouble with your gait and balance and then can work with you to help you retrain your body to be able to walk and balance like normal again. This typically requires a combination of efforts, and a comprehensive treatment plan will typically engage strategies like muscle training, flexibility, and range of motion training, and in some cases, targeted massage to address tension build-up in muscles.
Gait and balance disorders are especially common with increased age, and so as you begin getting older it is important to watch for the development of concerns like this. As a rule, the earlier you identify and begin treating problems with your gait and balance, the easier the issues become to address. If you are experiencing trouble with your gait or balance, request an appointment with our Hazel Green, AL, and Fayetteville, TN physical therapist as soon as possible.