Walking is a great form of exercise and the world’s oldest method of transportation. It’s the activity your feet were designed for, and it affords you a certain amount of independence. As long as you can walk, you can get around and go places. That’s why developing an unsteady gait can be so difficult. It cuts into your independence and limits your mobility.
When Walking Doesn’t Come Easily
An unsteady gait is any sort of abnormality that makes it difficult for you to move normally or maintain your balance. This can be a developmental problem in children, like intoeing or out-toeing, or it can be a symptom of an underlying issue later in life. Gait abnormalities in children usually grow out, allowing a child to walk normally in adulthood. Unsteady movement and instability in an adult can be managed, but sometimes the damage—and the loss of mobility—is permanent. Worse, the poor balance and loss of support sharply increases your risk for falling and impact injuries.
The Underlying Sources
Many different conditions can make walking difficult. Issues with nerves, particularly systemic diseases like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, brain tumors, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson’s, among others, are common culprits. Stroke, extreme vitamin deficiencies, and some infections can damage nerves as well. These can impact the body’s ability to balance or weaken the feet directly.
Other problems can also destabilize the lower limbs. Joint issues like arthritis make walking very painful and weaken the feet and ankles. Trauma to the feet can break bones and tear muscles or connective tissues. Acutely painful or chronic overuse injuries like shin splints can make normal movement uncomfortable. Poor circulation may lead to weak muscles. Legs that are different lengths can make you unstable. Even tight tissues, poor posture, numb feet, fatigue, and muscle spasms can impact your gait.
Taking Care of Gait Abnormalities
No one wants to have their mobility and independence compromised by unsteady feet. That’s why taking care of gait issues early is so important. Dr. David Laurino, Dr. Antonius Su, and Dr. Darick Freestone will carefully examine your lower limbs to determine the potential source of your issues. Our staff will check for problems with nerves, muscles, bones, and anything else that may cause foot or balance conditions. This may involve a wide variety of tests. Once we identify all the factors that contribute to the weakness, we can help you begin treatment to manage them.
To truly manage the walking problem, the underlying condition will have to be addressed. Exactly what that entails depends on the specific problem, though it may include medication and various therapies. Sometimes even surgery becomes necessary. However, your unsteadiness can be managed conservatively using several methods that work for most conditions. The most common and often most helpful treatment is physical therapy. This can involve exercises to improve balance and build lower limb strength, as well as to maintain a normal range of motion. Some activities that challenge balance and condition the feet can be helpful as well, like tai chi or yoga.
Most likely you’ll need to make adjustments to your footwear to help accommodate biomechanical problems. This may mean switching out your shoes for more supportive models, or getting custom orthotics. Sometimes special braces are necessary. These can help reduce painful pressure on your joints, too. If you’re feeling particularly wobbly, you may need a cane, or other type of support, to help maintain your balance.
You don’t have to resign yourself to stumbling around and risking falls whenever you try to be active. An unsteady gait may make walking more difficult, but it doesn’t have to make it impossible. Don’t give up on your independence and mobility if you don’t have to. Let Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona help you stay on your feet and moving. Make an appointment with us through our web request form. You can also call or fax either of our two offices: call (480) 963-9000 and fax (480) 963-0375 for the Chandler location; or call (480) 981-1800 and fax (480) 981-0229 for the Gilbert office.
Photo credit: MeiTeng via RGB-stock