Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Gait and Gate.... They both begin and end with the same sounds and both have one syllable. They each have two consonants and two vowels. Both also have four letters, but completely different meanings. The word "Gate" refers to a barrier that keeps an opening closed. The word "Gait" simply refers to someone's walking style. Before PD, my gait was normal. About 8 months after I had my first symptoms, my walking became very labored. In other words, I was no longer able to move at a normal to fast pace. As weakness set in on my right side, it felt like my right foot was no longer attached to my leg. I could clearly see it, but I was unable to move my foot or toes without using my hands to manipulate them. It also became difficult for me to lift my foot up as I walked. I actually tripped a few times. My right foot basically dragged itself to catch up with my left foot. My stride paled in comparison to what it had once been. I could no longer keep up with my kids at school or my friends when we walked.
Getting out of bed in the morning became an interesting task. My body had slowed down dramatically. At that point, I had to come up with a creative way to get out of bed safely. When in bed, I felt like I had 100 pound weights sitting on top of me. So it became a constant struggle to sit up in bed after laying down. What I came up with was to roll over to the edge of the bed (on my left side). Once there, I pulled myself upright using the covers and heavy duvet set, as my support system. From there, I very slowly put my left foot on the floor, followed by my right foot. When I felt pretty secure that my feet were firmly planted on the ground, I stood up. The tricky part was walking because of my very slow gait. I was also having balance issues (especially first thing in the morning). As heavy as my body felt in bed, once I stood up, it was a completely different story. Upon standing, I felt as light as a feather and often times would "teeter totter" as I walked. I was really afraid that I would tip over without warning. My balance was definitely off. On my way to the bathroom, kitchen, etc.. I held onto the walls or furniture to make sure I made it to my destination without falling. You are probably thinking, why didn't she seek help for these symptoms? To be honest, I couldn't think straight and didn't really grasp the magnitude of what was happening to me until I had no other choice. No matter what I tried to do back then, nothing was helping to improve my gait, or foot problems. When I finally found an amazing Dr. this past March, everything changed for me. It is truly amazing what can happen when you find a Dr. who really hears you and doesn't want to pump you full of medication.
I am going to share some of the exercises I started adding to my bag of tricks when my foot first became weak. I still do them to this day. Should I choose to stop exercising, PD will only be too happy to spread its wings and take over my entire being. I won't let that happen! Keep Moving is my motto and should be yours as well! A wonderful way to work on correct foot placement when walking, is to practice walking barefoot or with grip sox on (I practice in my living room). When practicing, I wear my grip sox, to make sure I don't slip on the hardwood floor (the bottom of these socks have a protective grip to keep you from sliding and potentially injuring yourself). The grip sox I really like are called Tucketts. Tucketts makes grip sox that host the big toe in one opening, while the other 4 toes stay together in a second opening. It is very important for me to be able to see my toes and ankles, so that I can quickly correct little things easily.
This first exercise helps with gait and correct stepping. I make a straight line barrier on the floor and then I walk in between the two sides, while trying not to touch either side with my feet. I also practice landing correctly on each foot (which has been a huge help in my recovery). I start by carefully setting down my heel, followed by my mid foot, and lastly the balls of my feet and then toes. When I was experiencing the worst of my foot symptoms, my right foot basically clopped down on the ground. Knowing that my feet could cease up and freeze, is motivation enough to continuously practice.
I also do heel raises while holding onto the wall. Both feet are facing straight ahead (a little less than hips distance apart. I simply roll up to the balls of my feet, hold it there for 4 counts and then slowly lower them back to the ground. For me this is also a fabulous balancing exercise. Sometimes I will take my hands off of the wall, and try to balance. I do three sets of 8 reps. Another variation for strengthening my feet, ankles and calves are plies, followed by heel raises. I begin with my feet in second position. I turn out my knees over my feet (again, I have gone directly back to my dance roots) and then slowly plie (as low as I can comfortably go). While is a second position plie, I lift my heels off of the ground and then I slowly put my heels back down. Once my heels are firmly back down, I slowly raise my legs back up to a standing position. I do three sets of 8 reps. Besides strengthening my feet and ankles with this exercise, I am also working my adductor muscles (inner thighs), which are super important muscles for walking. To be continued.....
These are the grip sox that work for me. Tuckkets have an opening for your big toe and a second wider opening for your other four toes. Remember, the information I am giving you about these grip socks and exercises are working for me. Again, you should always consult with a specialist to make sure that you are on the right track considering your symptoms and fitness level.