Maintaining Mobility in Later Years: The Importance of Proper Gait Mechanics


Gait Mechanics - Exercise


Why Proper Gait Mechanics Matter

As we age, it’s natural for our bodies to experience changes that can affect the way we move. For older adults, these changes can include a loss of leg strength and coordination, as well as a loss of flexibility in the hips and spine. These gait deviations can lead to a shuffling or stiff gait and can increase the risk of falls and related injuries. However, with the right approach, older adults can improve their gait mechanics and maintain their mobility well into their later years.

Falls are a major concern for older adults, as they can lead to serious injuries such as broken bones, head trauma, and even death. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults, and older adults who fall are also at increased risk of reduced mobility, as well as loss of independence. Poor gait mechanics, specifically, are a contributing factor to falls in older adults but can be improved with the right approach.

Read this blog for information about what makes up our balance and how to prevent falls.

What are the Common Deviations in Gait Mechanics

One of the most common gait deviations seen in older adults is a loss of leg strength and coordination, resulting in a shuffling gait, where the feet are dragged along the ground rather than lifted and placed down with each step. This type of gait can increase the risk of tripping and falling, and may also lead to knee and ankle pain.

To prevent this, older adults should engage in regular exercises that focus on leg strength, balance and coordination. Activities such as tai chi, yoga or even simple leg exercises at home can improve leg strength and coordination, which can help to reduce the risk of falls.

Another common gait deviation seen in older adults is a loss of flexibility in the hips and spine, which can cause a rigid or “stiff” gait. This type of gait can also increase the risk of falls and may cause pain in the hips and lower back. To improve this, older adults should include exercises that increase the flexibility of the hips and spine. Stretching exercises and activities such as yoga and Pilates can help to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of falls.

In addition to increasing the risk of falls, poor gait mechanics can also lead to other problems, such as:

  • Musculoskeletal pain in the hips, knees, ankles, and feet
  • Fatigue, as walking may become more energy-consuming
  • Decreased mobility, due to the difficulty or pain caused by poor gait mechanics
  • Decreased confidence, due to fear of falling and physical limitations.

How Can I Improve My Gait Mechanics

Physical therapy can play a crucial role in improving gait mechanics in older adults. A physical therapist can evaluate an older adult’s gait mechanics, identify areas of weakness or imbalance, and then develop an individualized exercise program to address those issues.

One specific type of physical therapy that can be beneficial is the use of Body Weight Support Treadmill Training (BWSTT) systems. These systems are designed to help individuals with gait impairments by providing support and allowing them to practice walking with reduced impact on their joints. BWSTT systems can be especially useful for older adults with joint pain, as they can help to reduce pain while improving gait mechanics.

Additionally, a physical therapist may also include specific resistance exercises to target the muscles used during gait. These exercises can include calf raises, squats, and lunges which are effective in strengthening the legs and improving overall balance. These exercises can also be modified for those with joint pain, such as using a chair for support or using lighter weights to avoid overloading the joints.

Incorporating proper resistance exercises, combined with the use of assistive devices like BWSTT systems and targeted physical therapy, can help older adults to improve their gait mechanics and reduce their risk of falls and related injuries, leading to improved mobility, independence, and quality of life. Physical therapists can also teach proper form and technique, giving the older adult the knowledge to continue their therapy in a home setting.

In addition to exercise and physical therapy, there are also assistive devices that can be used to improve gait mechanics and reduce the risk of falls. Canes, walkers and other mobility aids can help to provide additional support and stability, making it easier for older adults to walk safely. Additionally, wearable technologies such as gait analysis systems can provide real-time feedback on gait mechanics, allowing older adults to monitor their gait and make adjustments as needed.

In conclusion, proper gait mechanics are crucial for maintaining mobility and independence in older adults. Poor gait mechanics



Nick Hunter, PT, DPT

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