Balance & Walking Disorders
Balance and walking disorders are usually related to each other. Walking, or “gait problems”, are actually one of the leading causes of falls among older Americans. If something is wrong with your gait, working with a physical therapist can help restore your normal gait.
What Balance & Gait training in Physical Therapy does:
- strengthen your muscles and joints
- improve your balance and posture
- build your endurance
- develop your muscle memory
- retrain and educate
- lower your risk of falls
- increase your mobility
What is Gait?
How you walk – your pace, rhythm and style – are also known as your gait. After a foot or leg injury, or after a neurological problem such as a stroke, you may find yourself with a need to improve your walking skills. Gait training can improve your leg or foot movement to increase your stability. Common in runners, athletes, older adults, and those who have had an injury, gait training can help you move faster, with better posture and without pain.
Your gait and your ability to maintain your balance while you are moving are deeply intertwined. If your muscles have atrophied (become weaker) after an injury, or if you favor one foot because of chronic pain, you may find that both your gait and your balance are affected. In some cases, the original injury is not what is holding you back from moving quickly and easily, but chronic weakness or slow reflexes. Even increased fatigue from muscles can result in changes to your gait and balance as you move. Gait training can help strengthen weakened muscles, improve joint flexibility, relieve pain, and improve reflexes that make walking or running easier. It can also help you feel more confident in your footing as you age.
What are balance and gait disorders?
Balance and gait disorders are often lumped together because the two are related. If something is “off” with your balance, your gait is likely affected. Balance and gait disorders both fall under the category of functional disorders since they can interfere with your positional awareness, your ability to keep yourself upright, and your overall normal movement functions.
Balance and gait disorders, while similar, have some specific differences. Anything that causes you to feel unsteady or like you’re “spinning” can be defined as a balance disorder. This can increase your risk of falling because you may feel as if you may fall at any given moment. A balance disorder impacts both your physical and mental functionality, because your brain may believe you are moving even when you are not.
Gait disorders are a bit different from balance disorders. While they can still affect your balance, it has less to do with your mental functionality and everything to do with your physical functionality. Gait disorders are caused by abnormal movements with the ways in which you walk, which may become gradually more exaggerated as you get older. According to Move Forward Physical Therapy, gait disorders account for 17 percent of senior falls, as symptoms of a gait disorder seem to worsen with age.
There are many reasons why balance and gait disorders may occur, including underlying neurological or musculoskeletal disorders. Fortunately, HealthQuest Physical Therapy can relieve these disorders so you can get back to living your life on your own terms! To learn more about treating your balance and gait disorders with physical therapy, schedule your consultation today!
Why do I have a balance or gait disorder?
Whether you have recently had surgery, have developed vertigo as the result of an illness, or have noticed your balance seems “off” lately, the loss of balance is as much a neurological concern as it is a physical one. Not only do you need a pair of healthy feet and quality shoes to keep your balance, but your ability to stay upright is also connected to much of your nervous system. There are several reasons why you may develop a balance or gait disorder. It is common for balance disorders to develop from an issue with the vestibular system, which is a delicate collection of fluid-filled chambers and sensory nerves located in the inner ear. Your vestibular system helps manage your “proprioception,” or sense of position, and when this is altered, it can be difficult to keep yourself steady. Some common vestibular conditions that can lead to balance disorders include:
- Neurological issues. Neurological issues can throw you off balance. Some common conditions include brain injuries, stroke, or Parkinson’s disease, to name a few. Essentially, anything that impacts your neurological system can impact your ability to balance yourself.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV develops when calcium debris breaks off in the inner ear, resulting in issues with your balance.
- Injury or ailment. Even if your brain and nervous system are working in harmony with one another, a sudden injury, disease, or other ailments resulting in muscle weakness can interfere with your balance and make it difficult to keep yourself upright.
The origin of a gait disorder may not be as simple to diagnose, as there are even more conditions that can result in a gait disorder. Any condition that impairs your muscle or nerve functions can cause you to walk in an abnormal manner. Because of this, gait disorders can also develop from the symptoms of neurological or neuromuscular issues, much like balance disorders.
However, it is also common for gait disorders to develop from underlying musculoskeletal disorders. Just a few of the many conditions that may lead to a gait disorder include overuse injuries, arthritis or joint pain, abnormal foot arches, plantar fasciitis, a previous lower extremity injury that healed improperly, or uneven muscle support that causes you to favor one side of your body more than the other.
Get back on your feet with HealthQuest Physical Therapy:
When you arrive at one of our Southeast Michigan physical therapy offices, you will undergo an initial evaluation to examine your balance, gait, stance, symptoms, and medical history. Your therapist might watch you walk back and forth a few times to observe your gait. Your gait might be timed because the speed at which a person takes a step is often related to falling. You might also go through some balance tests to analyze your risk of falling. A series of strength and range-of-motion measurements will be done to determine if there is a physical component to any gait or balance problems, such as musculoskeletal limitations. Reflex and sensation screenings will also be done because balance and gait disorders frequently have a neurological component. Once this is complete, your physical therapist will design an individualized treatment plan based on your specific needs, in order to treat your balance or gait disorder. This may include:
- Stretches. Targeted stretches will give you more control and quicker reactions with your movements, in addition to reducing your risk of injury. They are an important part of a treatment plan that will help improve your flexibility and your range of motion. They will also help in keeping your muscles from becoming too tight and stiff.
- Strengthening exercises. Your evaluation will help determine any problem areas in your body that may need strengthening. Our physical therapist will provide you with exercises that will build up your muscles, thus making it much easier for you to move around and reduce your risk of injury.
- Vestibular rehabilitation. If you are suffering from BPPV, our physical therapist will provide you with specific exercises that will return the calcium debris to the correct parts of your ear. Vestibular rehabilitation is a balance-and-gait-specific type of rehab that works to improve your nerves, muscles, vision, and the vestibular system as a whole, in order to maintain a steady balance.
- Gait retraining exercises. In a study cited by the Arthritis Foundation, patients suffering from osteoarthritis-related gait disorders were able to successfully alter their gait through treadmill exercises. Sometimes, abnormalities in gait can be effectively corrected simply through “retraining.” If this is the case, our physical therapist will walk you through proper posture, stance, and walking techniques.
If you have been living with a balance or gait disorder, contact us today! Don’t let the spins knock you down – get back on your feet with HealthQuest Physical Therapy!