The term ‘gait’ refers to a person’s pattern of walking. Most people have their unique gait. For example, some people may have a bit of a bounce in their step or walk with their feet pointing outwards. Others may lean forward slightly or swing their arms from side to side. All of these walking variations are considered normal and part of a person’s gait. But there are many reasons why someone may experience a change in the way that he or she walks, the most typical being accident or injury to the legs, which leads to a limp. Having a limp is not the same as having a gait disorder.
A gait disorder is a functional movement disorder that results in a person moving in abnormal ways. For example, dragging your foot behind you, swaying abruptly from side to side, or instances where your knees buckle suddenly under your weight, are all common gait deviations that can potentially be diagnosed as a gait disorder. Gait disorders are not caused by injury to the limb, but instead by abnormalities in the nervous system. As such, gait disorders can only be confirmed once a full medical history is explored and a thorough physical and neurological examination has been carried out. Additionally, any underlying cognitive disorders also need to be ruled out.
There are several assessments used to determine a true gait disorder which usually require that the patient be observed and monitored over a period. This approach enables the neurology specialist to pin point any noticeable impairments and document any changes that may happen over time. Diagnosing and treating gait disorders can be challenging. Initial examinations can often take some time and adjustments often need to be made incrementally in order to help avoid any risk of injury through fall. Adjustments can be especially difficult in cases where patients live in homes that have stairs.
Although gait disorders are not life threatening, they can significantly impact a person’s ability to move around on their own and can, therefore, impact everyday life dramatically. The primary cause for concern with gait disorders is falling. Individuals who have a gait disorder tend to be very unsure when they walk. As a result, they may move very slowly and develop an exaggerated fear of falling. This fear can be amplified when coupled with cognitive disorders and can sometimes lead to patients not wanting to walk at all.
Our team of neurosurgeons and neurology specialists work closely with patients to determine what approaches best fit their situation. In instances where fall prevention is needed, an in-home care provider may be the first step in facilitating better mobility. In addition, a combination of corrective surgery, physical therapy, and various medical interventions may be used. If the underlying cause of the gait disorder is a neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s then a care plan which incorporates disease specific, best practice management methods will also be considered.