They call it Trendelenburg gait. You may have noticed it in the way your older loved one walks. It is a side to side upper torso sway for men and a side to side sway of the hips for women. It results in about a four degree shift in the opposite hip from the leg that is stepping forward, and that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really impacts the knee on the side that is shifting…a 23 degree shift. Over time, the knees get a lot of exaggerated grinding which will wear down the cartilage. Parkinson’s or even dementia can encourage this exaggerated gait, and hip replacement and the gait pattern that can follow surgical recovery also can set it in motion.
But Trendelenburg gait is not inevitable. We all have to grow old…versus the alternative, but we do not have to “walk old.” Physical therapists recommend a few exercises that help to strengthen core muscles that can prevent that side to side gait:
- The Walk-Over – Stand in front of a mirror so that you can monitor your exercise. Standing upright with feet shoulder-width apart and a towel rolled up in front of one of your feet, simply lift your leg up and then step over the towel. Tap your foot to the ground in front of the towel while keeping your hips horizontal, and then lift your foot again and tap behind the towel. Do this back and forth for 30 seconds and then switch to the other leg. Do the exercise twenty times. This can be twenty times in one exercise or over multiple “exercise breaks” in a day. It’s a strengthening exercise, so picture yourself getting stronger the more repetitions you do. Do this as many days of the week as you can with three to four days as your target.
- The Plank – You may wish to “Google” this so that you can see it. We are talking side planks which mean that you lie on your side, preferable on a soft carpet or exercise mat. With your elbow lifting your upper body, you form a straight line from your feet to your head and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Alternate this pose and holding with the other side. Go back and forth between sides about three times and do this as many days a week as you are able.
- Chair Sits – Begin by standing in front of a wooden chair with your arms folded across your chest and your fit about shoulder width apart. Lift one leg forward to form about a 20 degree angle with the other leg that is vertical. Slowly sit down with that leg extended. Once you have made contact with the seat of the chair keep the pose while standing back up again. Change to the other leg and repeat. Do this as many repetitions as the plank and as many sets.
I have been talking about helping your older loved one, but this may be perfect for us all so that we all can grow old…without walking old!
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.