What Are Gait and Balance Problems?
Gait (the process of
walking) and balance are intricate movements. They rely on proper functioning
from several areas of the body. These include the ears, eyes, brain, and
muscles. Problems with any of these areas can lead to walking difficulties,
falls, or injury if not addressed.
Walking difficulties may
be temporary or long-term, depending on the cause.
What Causes Gait and Balance Problems?
Potential causes of
temporary gait or balance problems include injury, trauma, inflammation, or
pain. Longer-term difficulties often result from muscular neurological issues.
Problems with gait,
balance, and coordination are often caused by specific conditions. These include:
- joint pain or conditions, such as arthritis
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Meniere's disease
- brain hemorrhage
- brain tumor
- Parkinson’s disease
- Arnold-Chiari malformation
- spinal cord compression or infarction
- Guillain Barre
- peripheral neuropathy
- cerebral palsy
- muscular dystrophy
Obesity, chronic alcohol
abuse, vitamin B12 deficiency, and stroke are other causes. The condition may
also be the result of vertigo, migraines, deformities, and certain medications
Gait and balance problems
can be a result of pain, muscle weakness, muscle tightness or spasticity, loss
of balance, or poor posture. Other causes include limited range of motion,
numbness (sensory deficit), and fatigue. Muscle weakness can occur in one leg
or both, and make walking difficult. Foot numbness makes it difficult to know
where the feet are moving or whether they are touching the floor.
Symptoms of Gait and Balance Problems
The most common symptoms
of gait and balance problems include difficulty walking, trouble with balance,
and unsteadiness. Patients can experience dizziness, light-headedness, vertigo,
motion sickness, or double vision.
Other symptoms may occur
depending on the underlying cause or condition.
Diagnosing Gait and Balance Problems
A physical and neurological
examination can diagnose gait or balance problems. Doctors typically also ask
questions about symptoms and severity.
Performance testing can
then be used to assess individual gait difficulties. Potential further tests to
identify causes include hearing tests, inner ear imaging, and vision tests
including watching eye movement. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed
tomography (CT) scan can check the brain and/or blood pressure/heart rates
tests. A doctor will look to find which part of the nervous system is
contributing to the gait and balance problems.
Treating Gait and Balance Problems
Treatment for gait and
balance problems depends on the cause. Treatments may include medications and
physical therapy, or rehabilitation to learn to function or compensate for lack
of balance. Affected patients may also learn how to prevent falls. For
vertigo-caused balance issues, you may learn how to position your head to
Gait and Balance Problem Prognosis
The prognosis of gait and
balance problems is dependent on the underlying medical condition.
Falls in older adults, due
to gait and balance problems, are a common cause of mortality and morbidity and
can lead to injury, loss of independence, and change in lifestyle.