Walking and Gait Difficulties
Gait, or difficulty with walking, is one of the most common symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, and often it is one of the first symptoms someone experiences. There are many reasons for gait issues as well such as, muscle weakness, spasticity, loss of balance, loss of sensation and fatigue.
- Muscle weakness– Muscle weakness can cause a variety of issues, including foot drop, “vaulting” (raising the stronger leg higher in order to make room for the weaker leg), hip movements that are compensatory, or swinging the affected leg out to the side. Weakness is often treated by using stretching or assistive devices, like a cane, walker or brace.
- Spasticity– Spasticity can lead to gait issues as well. If muscles are tight and in a state of spasm, they won’t work correctly. Consistent stretching to help reduce the spasm, hydration and medication are often the treatments.
- Balance– Loss of balance results in a swaying, or “drunken” look, without the fun of the booze. This type of gait issue is called ataxia, and individuals who have severe ataxia often require an assistive device.
- Sensory– Loss of sensation in a leg or foot can lead to gait issues due to not being able to feel the floor under your feet. This is known as sensory ataxia, and again often requires an assistive device.
- Fatigue– When fatigue increases, many things don’t work correctly in our bodies, and this includes our legs.
It seems obvious that many of these issues could lead to an individual falling down. And many of us do! Several studies have reported that a whopping 50-70% of people have fallen down in the past 6 months, with 30% of those people falling more than once. That’s a lot of people with a lot of falls and a lot of risk for injury! The individuals with the highest risk for falls are people who have poor balance, reduced proprioception (knowing where your body is in space), taking medications that affect the nervous system and misusing assistive devices.
Physical therapy, consistent exercise and regular stretching are great preventative strategies. These methods help to maintain muscle strength, flexibility and mobility. Focusing particularly on the core can also be very beneficial, as the core is crucial in maintaining balance. If these methods are not proving useful, and symptoms are increasing, the use of assistive devices might be needed. Better to be safe than sorry. Recovering from a fall can be a long road, and if it’s avoidable, all the more reason.
During one of my relapses a few years back, I struggled with weakness on the right side of my body, which included my leg. It slightly affected my walking, but not to the point where I had to get a device, or change how I walked (that I noticed anyway at the time, but I’m sure it did). I’ve actually fallen several times, but it was in the context of vertigo, not ongoing gait issues.
What walking/gait issues have you dealt with? How did you overcome them?
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