Definition

Gait training refers to helping a patient relearn to walk safely and efficiently. Gait training is usually done by rehabilitation specialists who evaluate the abnormalities in the person's gait and employ such treatments as strengthening and balance training to improve stability and body perception as these pertain to the patient's environment. Gait training often incorporates the use of such assistive devices as parallel bars, walkers or canes to promote safe and proficient ambulation. In order to walk again without assistance, the patient will need mental attentiveness and adequate sensation, coordinated with adequate musculoskeletal functioning and motor control.

Purpose

A person's gait is a pattern of stepping or walking that is specific to that individual. Gait training is needed to help a specific patient gain proficient and safe ambulation within and outside the home with or without an assistive device. Patients usually require gait training if there is some lower trunk or lower limb dysfunction. This dysfunction is often associated with neurological or orthopedic impairment. Complications that may require gait training include:

  • muscle weakness
  • deformity
  • spasticity (the presence of abnormal involuntary muscular contractions)
  • loss of sensation due to injury or disease that results in inaccurate sensory information and unsafe or inefficient motion
  • pain in the weight-bearing joints of the lower extremities, which causes distortion of normal gait

These complications may result from injury to or amputation of the lower extremities; surgery; osteoarthritis or other disorders of the weight-bearing joints; muscular dystrophy; muscle atrophy due to long periods of inactivity or bed rest; lesions of the brain or spinal cord; or changes in perception and other body functions that are part of the aging process.

Normal gait

In order to understand gait training, the reader may find a descriptive outline of normal human gait helpful. Human gait is measured from heel strike to heel strike, also known as the gait cycle or "one stride." The gait cycle has two phases, the stance (about 60% of the cycle)