A gait trainer is a type of physical therapy equipment that helps patients learn to walk normally. A person's gait is the way he or she moves when trying to walk or run. Abnormal gait can make it difficult for a person to move efficiently or put him or her at greater risk of injury due to falls or repetitive stress damage. A gait trainer consists of a wheeled, durable frame, usually rising from the ground to the user's lower or middle torso, with handles, grips, or a supporting harness to help the user stand upright. Gait trainers are used in the treatment of both adults who have suffered mobility loss due to injury or illness and children with congenital defects or other health conditions that interfere with normal development of mobility and motor skills.
Gait trainers help their users to stand upright in a similar manner to walkers, which they often resemble. However, a gait trainer always has wheels, not legs, and rolls along with its user as he or she walks, rather than by being lifted and set down by the user. The patient is thus able to practice walking in a natural manner, as he or she can propel himself or herself forward with the same motions as someone walking unassisted. This allows the patient to develop the muscular strength and motor control needed to walk unaided.
Gait trainers are used in the rehabilitation of patients with a variety of different health problems affecting mobility. Gait abnormalities can be caused by muscle weakness from long periods of inactivity or neuromuscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy. A gait trainer can be used by people learning to walk again after an injury and can help to slow the advance and decrease the symptoms of conditions such as muscular dystrophy by allowing the patient to remain mobile and so exercise muscles that would otherwise atrophy from disuse and further aggravate the effects of the disease. Bone or joint damage in the legs or hips caused by injuries or diseases such as osteoarthritis also interfere with normal gait.
Gait training can be helpful for people suffering from injuries, diseases, or disorders that affect the nervous system, some of which can cause problems with gait by interfering with motor control or sensation. Cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease are common examples. A gait trainer can also be used to help a patient regain mobility after a stroke or other trauma to the nervous system.
Gait training can be especially valuable for children. Normal, healthy childhood growth and development requires physical activity, and so the restricted mobility caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy, childhood muscular dystrophy, or congenital deformities that interfere with walking during childhood can cause health problems or abnormalities that are difficult or impossible to correct in adulthood. Early gait therapy can prevent or at least diminish this problem.