Even though walking may seem to be an uncomplicated activity there are many systems of the body which may affect our ability to stride along. These include our systems such as strength, coordination, and sensation that work together to allow a person to walk with what is considered a normal gait. However when one or more of these interacting systems is not working smoothly it can result in abnormal gait or other walking abnormality.
At times a person may find it difficult to walk due to an acute problem, such as a bruise, cut, or fracture. While these may cause them to limp or walk differently they are not considered causes of abnormal gait. However, there are several diseases that can attack the nervous system and legs, resulting in abnormal gait.
We define an unsteady gait as an abnormality in walking that can be caused by diseases of or damage to the legs and feet (including the bones, joints, blood vessels, muscles, and other soft tissues) or to the nervous system that controls the movements necessary for walking. Often an unsteady gait may occur as a result of a temporary condition, such as an injury or infection, or it may indicate a long-term (chronic) problem. Unsteady gaits can be mild enough to be barely noticeable. In other cases they may be so severe as to cause an inability to perform tasks of daily living.
Some older adults are prone to gait and balance disorders and these are a major cause of falls in this population. Such afflictions are associated with increased morbidity and mortality, as well as reduced level of function. For affected older adults, in particular, gait and balance problems can cause serious falls that can lead to injury, loss of independence, and a change in lifestyle. There are even cases in which falls can be fatal.
Some common causes include orthostatic hypotension and arthritis but most gait and balance disorders involve multiple contributing factors. Many such changes in gait and balance are related to underlying medical conditions and these should not be considered an inevitable consequence of aging.
The underlying cause for unsteady gait necessitates which treatments are followed to address the condition. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications may be effective for relief when an unsteady gait is related to a sprain, strain, or minor injury. In the case of more severe injuries and conditions more specific therapies may be required that are directed at the underlying cause of the problem. In most cases physical and neurological examinations can diagnose gait or balance problems and your doctor will also ask questions about your symptoms and their severities.
To assess individual gait difficulties performance testing can then be used. Other potential tests to identify causes of unsteady gait can include hearing tests, vision tests, inner ear tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan to check your brain and spinal cord.
Gait abnormalities may clear up on their own in some cases, in other instances an abnormal gait may be permanent. But in both situations physical therapy can help improve a person's gait and reduce any uncomfortable symptoms. In all cases treatment for gait and balance issues depends on the cause such treatments may include medications and physical therapy. Rehabilitation may be required to learn to move muscles and to compensate for a lack of balance, and further teach you how to prevent falls. In cases of vertigo-caused balance issues you may learn how to position your head to regain balance.
Your underlying medical condition decides the prognosis of gait and balance problems. You need to be sure to see your doctor to get a thorough examination in order to identify why you are experiencing gait and balance difficulties. Whatever your condition is there are a wide variety of treatments for all issues.