Find your footing. Keep both feet firmly on the ground. Expressions like these are usually used as metaphors for finding peace and emotional stability at a difficult point in life, but for many (especially older adults) the words ring with literal meaning.
Instability and unsteady gait can be the result of many things. On their own, gait issues reduce your quality of life by limiting your mobility, and they also put you at greater risk for falls and the painful consequences that can come with them.
How Your Stride Changes As You Age
As we get older, a variety of factors contribute to altering the way we move and walk. Stances widen, strides shorten, and legs slow down. These adaptations are usually a natural response to increasing unsteadiness due a combination of any number of common side effects of the aging process. These may include foot pain due to arthritis or other issues; vision problems that impair ability to clearly see and evaluate surroundings; weakening muscles due to inadequate exercise or nutrition; nerve damage and loss of sensation in the lower legs; and many more.
Other Ways Gait May Become Unsteady
It isn’t just older adults that develop issues with instability, however. Younger adults or even children may walk unsteadily due to a variety of factors. Injury is a common one, as sprains, strains, or breaks can make normal strides painful and cause us to alter the way we move to compensate.
The Risks of Instability
Instability, unsteady gait, or lack of balance can cause a wide variety of problems and put you at increased risk for many more. Perhaps most obviously, the reduction in mobility may restrict your independence and prevent you from working or taking part in treasured activities. Something as simple as climbing a flight of stairs or walking a few blocks may become extremely difficult. Unhealthy posture might also contribute to increased strain and pain on ankles, knees, hips, and back.
Especially among older populations, unsteady gait also greatly increases your risk of falling. Millions of adults fall every year, and each one brings the chance of moderate or severe injuries, including hip fractures and head trauma. Many result in extended hospital stays or long-term disability, and falling is the No. 1 cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in Americans over 65.
Steadying Your Gait and Preventing Falls
Fortunately, in many cases there’s a lot that can be done to steady your stride, prevent falls, and keep you mobile long into old age. Treatments vary based on the causes and symptoms, but a visit to Dr. Darren Silvester of Next Step Foot & Ankle will get you started down the right path.
Remember that balance is like any other physical skill—if you practice, you’ll get better, at any age. Daily stretches and balance exercises, or even yoga or tai chi classes, can keep you confident on your feet and strengthen stabilizing muscles.
When a foot deformity, ankle problem, arthritis, or other lower limb condition is contributing to your instability, we can help you address those concerns with a wide variety of treatment options, including shoe modifications, orthotics, physical therapy, medications, and others. We can also refer you to a good eye doctor if you need better glasses or any other help with vision.
One tool we offer, the Moore Balance Brace, is a lightweight fall prevention device that fits around your foot and lower leg. We’ve found it to be a great help for many, reducing fall risk by 30 to 60 percent, and it’s billable to insurance for qualified patients.
Falls can also be caused by environment, so eliminate potential tripping hazards and add railings or grab bars where necessary. An occupational therapist can help you make modifications to your home.
If you have concerns about your gait, your balance, or the way you walk and move, call Dr. Darren Silvester at Next Step Foot & Ankle today. We even offer a free fall risk assessment appointment at our office. Schedule an appointment at our Pleasanton, TX office online or by calling 830-569-3338.