Problems with walking increase with age and are commonly associated with falls and disability in older adults. At least 20% of older adults living in the community have problems with walking. This increases to approximately 50% in adults 85 years old and older. Most of these problems are associated with underlying diseases, especially severe diseases. Common risk factors for severe problems with walking include advanced age (older than 85), multiple chronic disease conditions such as arthritis or dementia, and diseases such as stroke, hip fracture, or cancer.
Causes of Walking Problems
Problems with walking are not an inevitable consequence of older age. Rather, they usually reflect the overall effects of other conditions that become more common and severe with age. Often, more than one disease or condition contributed to walking problems. Common symptoms and conditions that contribute to walking disorders include the following:
• Back pain
• Joint pain and arthritis
• Diseases of the muscles or bones
• Circulation problems in the legs
• Problems after orthopedic surgery or stroke
• Low blood pressure when standing
• Parkinson’s disease
• Vision or balance problems
• Fear of falling
• Symptoms of pain, stiffness, dizziness, numbness, weakness, or the sensation of abnormal movement
Factors that contribute to slow walking speed (poor fitness, heart disease, etc) also contribute to walking problems. Improvements in these underlying conditions, facilitated by a physical therapist, can often greatly improve your walking and mobility.
Evaluation of Walking Problems
Helping your balance or walking problem is easier than you think. Your physical therapist at On the Mend On the Move Physical Therapy in Mesa AZ, will carefully review your medical history to understand health factors that may be contributing to problems with walking and mobility. They will ask about pain, dizziness, or other symptoms directly related to mobility. They will also ask about indirect factors such as past medical problems, symptoms related to heart disease, thyroid problems, episodes of acute illness, poor vision, or other conditions that can affect stability, coordination, strength, or posture.
As in any health condition, it is important to discuss any medications you are taking in case of potential side effects or drug interactions that might cause dizziness, weakness, or lack of coordination. Treatment may include specific tests of balance, coordination, strength, tone, sensation, body position, and gait.
There are specific tests to evaluate walking speed, motion, balance, and similar problems that increase the risk of falls. One simple test that can be done during an office visit is the “Timed Get Up and Go” test. This test measures how long you take to get up from a chair, walk about 10 feet, turn around, and return to the chair. A more complex approach that can be very useful for evaluating mild disabilities is the Functional Ambulation Classification scale. This tests how well you can use assistive devices (canes or walkers), the amount of assistance you need from other people, the distance you are able to walk, and the types of surfaces (rugs, slippery floors, etc) that you are able to walk on.
Treatment of Walking Problems
The use of orthoses such as “lifts” (to correct for different leg lengths), ankle braces, and various shoe inserts or modifications can help reduce walking problems. In general, well-fitting walking shoes with low heels and relatively thin, firm soles help maximize balance and improve walking.
The goal of our Mesa physical therapy office is improved function. Our exercise programs can increase walking speed in younger and older adults struggling with arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or stroke. Generally, the most successful results are from physical therapy programs that combine a variety of different exercises such as leg resistance training, balance, and flexibility exercises. Call us at On the Mend On the Move Physical Therapy today to find out how we can help you walk like you use to. 480-354-2911 or 480-436-5099