What is a Gait Assessment?

Kathy Heydasch
Kathy Heydasch
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Gait is defined as the coordinated action of nerves, muscles and bones which result in walking. A person’s gait is distinctive and unique, and can be studied to identify any abnormalities. Gait assessment is used to involve little more than visual observation, but modern labs use a host of electronic equipment to assess any posture or balance problems that could result from abnormal gait.

A gait assessment involves the visual or electronic observation of a person walking. Gait abnormalities might be caused by genetic factors, or could be the result of an injury. They are often found in people with affected neural systems who have diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases.

Visual observation is the first step in gait assessment. Even an untrained eye can detect obvious abnormalities in a person’s gait, but trained eyes can see much more. Initial observation is done in a large room where the doctor or clinician can see the patient sit, stand, maneuver obstacles, or even walk with his or her head turned to one side. Video cameras are often used to record a patient for later study.

Any evaluation is better when there are clinical standards by which to measure a patient. One such measure for gait assessment is called the Dynamic Gait Index, which is a test given to patients whereby they perform certain functions. Doctors grade a patient from 0-3 on eight of these functions, and the overall score is used to determine the severity of the gait abnormality.

Modern technology has improved gait assessment beyond that which is capable from human observation alone. One example of such motion analysis is a force plate, which is mounted on the floor. It records the location and extent of pressure applied to it. Another is electromyography, which measures electrical pulses generated by muscle movement.

Gait disorders are not typically life-threatening, but those with gait abnormalities may suffer a lower quality of life or be more prone to accidents. Sometimes simply changing a person’s shoes can correct a problem, but often corrective measures are taken. One might benefit from regular stretching and strengthening exercises to allow greater mobility. Others might need a splint or a brace in order to correct an abnormal gait. In any case, the goal is optimum mobility, balance and performance.

Gait and balance are often closely intertwined, and thus are studied together frequently. Balance is measured visually using the Berg Balance Scale. Abnormalities of balance might include defects in the structure of the inner ear.

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