Book an appointment:
020 7616 7693

What are gait and balance disorders?

In order to stand up and walk around, we need to be able to balance and co-ordinate rhythmic stepping movements – this is known as gait.

Normally, the brain sends signals through nerve cells to muscles in the arms and legs to bring about these movements. The eyes and balance organs provide sensory information that is used to adjust these movement signals. The brain also needs to know where the limbs are positioned in space. When any one of these systems malfunctions, it can lead to problems with gait and balance.

find out more

Please don't hesitate to get in touch with our team to find out more about our services and care.

What are the common causes of gait and balance disorders?

Gait and balance disorders become more common as people get older, affecting around 50% of people aged over 85 years. There are different causes that affect different body systems:

brain and nervous system

The brain and nervous system can be affected through conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, brain or spinal tumours, or peripheral neuropathy (problems with the nerves supplying the limbs). Suffering a stroke can also interfere with nerve signalling and lead to difficulties walking and balancing. Certain medications, vitamin deficiencies, and alcohol overuse are also known to negatively impact brain function.

balance organs

The balance organs are also known as the vestibular system and are found in the inner ear. They are responsible for monitoring and controlling balance. When the vestibular system malfunctions, often due to injury, infection or a condition called Meniere’s disease (a disorder leading to dizziness, ringing in the ears and hearing problems), this can cause unsteadiness and balance problems.

 

Musculoskeletal conditions

Musculoskeletal conditions (bone and muscle problems) also contribute to gait and balance disorders. Myopathy (a disease where muscle fibres do not function correctly) and muscular dystrophy (a condition leading to the breakdown of muscle cells) both cause weakness and can affect movement. Arthritis in the joints, joint deformities, and bone fractures can all cause pain and difficulty walking.

What other symptoms are associated with gait and balance disorders?

There are several other symptoms that can be linked to gait and balance disorders. Problems with the brain and nervous system can cause weakness, loss of sensation, headaches, light-headedness or visual changes.

If the vestibular system is affected, then a feeling of fullness in the ear can be felt as well as vertigo. Muscular issues often cause weakness and pain, and bone and joint problems can affect mobility.

What tests are used to diagnose gait and balance disorders?

The tests used to diagnose each patient will depend on the likely underlying cause. During an appointment with one of our specialist doctors here at The London Clinic Centre for Movement Disorders, they will ask some questions about the symptoms and the impact of them. A careful physical examination involving a walking gait and balance assessment can also provide valuable information.

Imaging such as MRI or CT scans may be used to check the brain and spinal cord. Hearing and vision tests may also be recommended, and blood tests can further help the diagnosis.

Specialist tests include nerve conduction studies to look at the function of the nerves, an electromyogram (a minimally-invasive test involving a small needle) to assess the muscles, and a three-dimensional kinematic gait measurement to look at the pattern of muscle activity when walking.

What are the common treatments for gait and balance disorders?

Gait and balance disorder treatment involves addressing the underlying cause of the problem. Initial treatment usually looks at simple lifestyle changes, such as cutting down on alcohol or an improved diet that is rich in essential vitamins.

If needed, medications can be used to successfully reduce pain, improve mobility and reduce dizziness. Bacterial infections have been found to cause problems with balance and can be treated with antibiotics. Surgery may be an option in cases where bone and joint problems, or rarely tumours, are the underlying cause.

Physical therapies can also be helpful for restoring strength and function and our multidisciplinary team of therapists are able to offer:

Imaging such as MRI or CT scans may be used to check the brain and spinal cord. Hearing and vision tests may also be recommended, and blood tests can further help the diagnosis.

Specialist tests include nerve conduction studies to look at the function of the nerves, an electromyogram (a minimally-invasive test involving a small needle) to assess the muscles, and a three-dimensional kinematic gait measurement to look at the pattern of muscle activity when walking.

Why choose The London Clinic?

At The London Clinic, we believe in offering world-class care within our fully equipped facility. We can offer rapid access to leading specialists and physiotherapy experts who work alongside a comprehensive multidisciplinary team. We strive to ensure that from diagnosis to treatment there are no delays or compromises in the quality of care we offer.

Contact the centre for MOVEMENT DISORDERS