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What is a Gait Disorder?

By J. Picard
Updated May 17, 2024
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"Gait disorder" is a term used to describe an abnormality in the way a person walks. A person's gait is the pattern in which each step is taken and the manner in which stride and balance are controlled as movement occurs. Gait disorders affect the normal fluidity of that pattern, making walking difficult and sometimes even impossible. Depending on the area of body affected, a gait disorder will present itself in a variety of ways. Common symptoms of gait disturbances include foot shuffling, waddling, slow or uncoordinated movement and trouble balancing while moving forward.

Though walking to most people is as natural as breathing in and out, the act of walking takes a great deal of coordination and engages most of the body's major muscle groups. Even the eyes and ears assist one's body in the act of balancing and staying upright. The fluidity of this movement depends a great deal on the strength and proper coordination of muscles and bones and the ability of the brain to properly relay and receive instruction on that movement. Walking is a process that requires the rhythmic cooperation of most of the body, and seemingly small changes or disorders can affect one's gait pattern and ultimately the ability to walk.

A gait disorder can occur for a number of reasons, and it requires medical attention to find the root cause of the particular disorder. Many times, abnormalities in gait occur after physical trauma and are the direct result of a body part such as an arm or leg being compromised, strained muscles or inflammation. Neurological disorders, disease, certain medications and even the fear of falling also can be contributing factors or causes for gait disturbances. So many bodily systems are engaged in the process of walking that the causes of gait abnormalities vary widely.

For those experiencing some form of gait disorder, examination by a licensed physician is required. A complete medical history of the patient will be obtained, and observation of the particular gait disturbance will be conducted. Other procedures for diagnosis might also be performed at the discretion of a medical provider to determine any underlying causes that might be contributing factors.

There are therapies available to minimize and possibly correct a gait disorder. Treatment plans will depend on the nature, origin and severity of the particular gait disturbance. Evaluation and diagnosis of a gait disorder should be obtained from a licensed physician.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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