Winter is upon us. Here in Berks County we have not escaped wintery conditions.
Did you find yourself walking across icy surfaces already this year?
If yes, did you step differently once your feet touched the ice?
Of course you did. You probably changed your walking pattern even before you had to step onto the icy surface.
When walking on ice, you tend to slow down, take smaller steps, widen your stance, and probably don’t bother picking your feet up but slide them along shuffling your feet.
I found myself walking like this on an icy surface going downhill just the other day. After only ten feet on the slippery surface, I could feel my leg muscles working overtime. I was physically and mentally getting tired. Then I had the idea that this is how my patients feel who walk just like I was walking on the ice everyday as their normal gait pattern. They are not only afraid of falling, but walking exhausts them.
Many people develop balance deficits as they get older. There are many causes for the change in balance such as a sedentary lifestyle, loss of sensation in your feet, and vision loss. No matter what the cause, we develop strategies to help us compensate for the balance deficits.
At first you might find yourself slowing down your walking speed. When you slow down your pace, you don’t have the ability to use momentum to carry you forward. You utilize more energy to walk at that slower pace and you will find that you get tired quickly walking shorter distances.
Then you may find that you are not picking your feet up as high off the ground as you used to, but instead slide them forward. This may cause you to stub your toes or “catch” your feet as you walk.
While you are picking up one foot and advancing it forward to walk, you have to balance on the opposite leg. So if you cannot balance well on one foot, you will find yourself compensating by taking short shuffle steps.
Some of you may find that you widen your stance. When your feet are farther apart you have a wider base of support which makes you more stable and less prone to balance disturbances.
If you start to see any of these changes in your walking pattern or a loved one’s walking pattern, please do not wait. Talk to your health care provider right away.
The changes in your walking will affect your energy level and your ability to perform your daily activities. You may be fearful to participate in activities you enjoy and become housebound.
Do not assume that a change in your walking pattern is just a symptom of “getting older”. Balance can be improved with proper training.
You are your best advocate. Talk to your doctor about how you can benefit from physical therapy and balance training to help you gain confidence in your ability to move freely without falling.
The key here is to address the issue right away at the first sign of walking pattern changes. Once you are walking with the short shuffle steps and feet apart it is harder to break the habit and you may lose your independence.
Happy Day! Here’s to Helping You Move with Confidence and Ease!