Gait training is a type of physical therapy that helps people improve their ability to stand and walk. One goal of gait training is preventing falls. Gait training may be recommended after an illness or injury, to help a patient regain independence in walking, even if an adaptive device is needed. Gait training helps strengthen muscles and joints, improves balance, improves posture, develops muscle memory, builds endurance, and retrains the legs for repetitive motion.
The secondary benefit of gait training is a reduction of other illness, such as heart disease and osteoporosis, through physical activity and movement. People who choose gait training may become healthier overall than people who choose immobility.
Gait training is an option for anyone who has lost his or her ability to safely get around. Some examples of injuries or illnesses that lead to walking difficulties include spinal cord injuries, stroke, broken legs or pelvis, joint injuries, injuries from accidents, amputation, and knee replacements.
Children requiring gait therapy are often suffering from brain injuries, neurological disorders, or musculoskeletal issues. Therapy can occur before they start walking or after they start walking with difficulty.
Gait training is usually started as soon as possible after an injury or a health complication. A doctor will prescribe it as part of physical therapy. The patient must be healthy enough for physical activity and movement and have joints that are strong enough to support the therapy.
Once the patient is deemed healthy enough to start gait training, the process is similar to other physical therapies. Gait training often includes machines that help the patient walk safely. Exercises might include human assistance. Therapists can help with support, stability, and other assistance.
There are several gait therapy techniques, but a few common trainings. Many people undergoing gait training will walk on a treadmill and do strength training. Treadmill trainings often include a harness, but some do not. Other task-specific trainings include stepping over objects, lifting the leg, sitting, and standing. People with specific mobility-affecting issues will get special therapies or exercises.
The type of training, intensity, and duration will depend on the individual situation.
Gait training can be hard work. Walking is cardiovascular exercise and helps keep the heart and lungs strong. If you’ve been immobile, the process of relearning to walk may be physically and mentally challenging. Talk to your therapist about any challenges you are having.