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Gait therapy involves physical therapy and motor skills education to help a person achieve the ability to walk again. Before gait training can begin, the person will need to be examined by a doctor to determine whether physical therapy will be beneficial. The physician will then refer the patient to the appropriate rehabilitation facility. The different types of gait therapy include gait analysis, posture training, strength training and patient education about the use of ambulatory devices such as walkers and canes.
Before beginning gait therapy, a physical therapist will take a comprehensive medical history and exam to determine the patient’s current abilities. The therapist will also need to know the level of the person’s prior physical ability to help develop the appropriate gait therapy program. Gait training utilizes physical therapy to improve the person’s strength and balance in order to correct abnormal gait patterns.
Gait training begins with an assessment of the patient when he or she is trying to stand up from a sitting position, with and without a walker. The therapist will start with a gait analysis in order to determine which exercises will be the most efficient in restoring the strength of the muscles necessary for walking. An indicator of muscle weakness is poor posture, so the first goal of gait training is to improve the person’s posture.
Posture training uses specific exercises to increase the core strength of the body, and it will improve joint mobility and will help the body to work efficiently when moving or sitting. Increased strength and flexibility will also help reduce pain. The physical therapist will determine when the patient’s muscle strength has improved enough to begin walking exercises with ambulatory assistance devices.
Walkers are traditionally used to assist with balance and reduce the likelihood of falls while a patient is participating in gait therapy. If the person has enough muscle tone after using the walker for some time, he or she might be able to proceed to using a cane or crutches to walk again. Usually, a gait belt is wrapped around the patient’s waist, and the physical therapist holds part of the belt to assist with balance issues. In some cases, the person will need to begin walking while holding onto parallel bars in order to build enough strength in his or her legs. The parallel bars also will promote the development of arm and abdominal muscles that will aid the person when he or she uses a walker or crutches later on.
Most people need to undergo extensive gait therapy only after a stroke or an accident that damages their lower body. Gait training at a rehabilitation hospital might enable the patient to become ambulatory and prevent falls and other accidents. Gait therapy ends when the patient has achieved the desired level of strength and coordination that the physical therapist and physician recommend.
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