Gait Training

Will gait training be effective for you?

Gait Training

Each individual makes progress in therapy at his/her own pace. Some people may learn to walk well in a few months; others may take years to be able to walk just for exercise. Still others may never undergo gait training.

It is important for all people to remain active and healthy. This can include eating well, pushing your wheelchair, working out with adaptive machines in your local gym, team sports, or any other kind of physical and social activity you can do safely.

The ability to walk after a spinal cord injury depends on many factors including your:

  • Level of injury.
  • Severity of injury.
  • Time since injury.
  • Age.
  • Level of fitness.
  • Other injuries.
  • Level of sensation
  • Other related problems such as spasticity and joint problems (contractures).
  • Level of pain.

How to determine if gait training is right for you

A physical therapist (PT) or other clinician will determine if gait training is right for you by using a variety of tests.

  • He/she will test your strength, sensation, ability to stand up, balance while standing, spasticity or stiffness, and range of motion at your hips, knees, ankles, and trunk. If you are able to take some steps, the clinician will watch you walk to look for safety issues.
  • The clinician may also provide assistive devices and/or braces to give you better balance, protect your joints, and ensure your safety as you walk.
  • He/she may then test your walking speed, endurance, and balance with these devices and braces to keep track of your therapy progress.

Gait training can require a lot of work and be a long process, so it is important for your PT or other clinician to tell you what you can expect. Some people work on balance and other “pre-gait” activities many times a week for many months before they start actual gait training (involving walking). Pre-gait activities include stretching, strengthening, weight bearing, balance training, and coordination training to get ready for walking.

Gait training may not be appropriate for you if:

  • You are too weak to support your body weight over ground.
  • Your blood pressure is unstable.
  • You have fractures or risks for fractures.
  • You have a high risk falling and hurting yourself.
  • You are unlikely to become independent with walking.

The physician and therapist will want to make sure you are safe before starting gait training and during the training. It would be far worse to fall and hurt yourself, setting yourself back, than to continue safely with therapy. Over time your condition may change, affecting whether gait training is right for you.

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