What is gait training?

Gait training is a type of physical therapy. It can help improve your ability to stand and walk. Your doctor may recommend gait training if you’ve had an illness or injury that affects your ability to get around. It may help you gain independence in walking, even if you need an adaptive device.

Gait training can help:

  • strengthen your muscles and joints
  • improve your balance and posture
  • build your endurance
  • develop your muscle memory
  • retrain your legs for repetitive motion
  • lower your risk of falls, while increasing your mobility

It may also lower your risk of other illnesses, such as heart disease and osteoporosis, by increasing your physical activity and mobility. Choosing gait training over immobility may help protect and improve your overall health.

Your doctor may recommend gait training if you’ve lost your ability to walk due to an injury, illness, or other health condition. For example, the following conditions can lead to difficulties with walking:

  • spinal cord injuries
  • broken legs or pelvis
  • joint injuries or replacements
  • lower limb amputations
  • strokes or neurological disorders
  • muscular dystrophy or other musculoskeletal disorders

Children who require gait therapy often have brain injuries, neurological disorders, or musculoskeletal issues. Their doctors may recommend gait therapy before or after they start walking.

Your doctor will likely encourage you to start gait training as soon as possible after an injury or illness that affects your ability to walk. They may recommend other forms of physical therapy and treatments too. You must be healthy enough for physical activity and movement before you begin. Your joints must also be strong enough to support gait training.

Once you’re healthy enough to start gait training, the process is similar to other physical therapies. It often involves machines that help you walk safely. Your therapist may also assist you in gait training exercises. They can help support your bodyweight, provide stability, and offer other assistance.

Gait training commonly involves walking on a treadmill and completing muscle strengthening activities. You may wear a harness while walking on the treadmill or doing other exercises. Your therapist may also ask you to practice stepping over objects, lifting your legs, sitting down, standing up, or other activities.

The type, intensity, and duration of your training will depend on your specific diagnosis and physical abilities.

Gait training can be hard work. If you’ve been immobile for a while, the process of walking or relearning to walk may be physically and mentally challenging. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about any challenges you’re having. Ask them about your specific condition, gait training plan, and long-term outlook.