Someone with a normal gait-the medical term for walking-walks smoothly at a normal pace without thinking about it. Someone with an abnormal gait may have trouble taking the first step, have bent posture, spasticity, or walk with a shuffle, shortened steps or slow pace. You may have to think about each step rather than it coming automatically, or may be thrown off balance by turning or changing direction.
These are signs that control of gait by the brain, spine or peripheral nervous system may be impaired. As we age, we may think it's normal for walking to become more difficult. However, we should continue to walk normally as we age.
Our interdisciplinary team of experts includes neurologists, rehabilitation physicians/physiatrists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, physical therapists and occupational therapists. Patients who come to the The Sandra and Malcolm Berman Brain & Spine Institute (BSI) for gait abnormalities are screened by a neurologist or physiatrist. We have expertise in neurological disorders like cerebral palsy, Parkinson disease, brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, spinal stenosis, peripheral neuropathy and normal pressure hydrocephalus. After a comprehensive medical history and examination of the patient, our doctors determine the need for additional diagnostic tests, like MRI or CT of brain or spine, electromyography, nerve conduction study, or X-rays of the spine.
Once a diagnosis is made, an individualized treatment plan is recommended. For example, patients with cervical or lumbar spinal stenosis are treated by one of our neurosurgeons or orthopedic spine surgeons. Those suspected of having a disorder like parkinsonism are seen by a movement disorder specialist, and those with neuropathy or peripheral nerve problems are seen by one of our neuromuscular neurologists or physiatrists. Some patients may be treated by a physical therapist for strengthening and retraining of walking and balancing.
If you already know the cause of your gait abnormality, you may wish to be re-evaluated or to receive ongoing management by our team. For example, tightness in muscles due to spasticity can be reduced and walking improved by comprehensive treatments offered in the spasticity program. If you have arthritis in the hip or knee, a physician may have told you that this is not the cause of your difficulty walking. We can evaluate and help.
Difficulty with gait, balance or mobility isn't normal and could signify an underlying problem. If you or a family member have such symptoms, call the Center for Gait and Mobility at The Sandra and Malcolm Berman Brain & Spine Institute at 410-601-WELL(9355).