Gait is evaluated by having the patient walk across the room. While the patient is walking the physical must be looking for any gait abnormalities and make notes of such abnormalities. Next ask the patient to walk heel to toe across the room, then on their toes only, and finally on their heels only. Normally, these maneuvers possible without too much difficulty.
Be certain to note the amount of arm swinging because a slight decrease in arm swinging is a highly sensitive indicator of upper extremity weakness.
Also, hopping in place on each foot should be performed.
What does each gait physical examination mean:
Walking on heels is the most sensitive way to test for foot dorsiflexion weakness, while walking on toes is the best way to test early foot plantar flexion weakness.
Abnormalities in heel to toe walking (tandem gait) may be due to ethanol intoxication, weakness, poor position sense, vertigo and leg tremors. These causes must be excluded before the unbalance can be attributed to a cerebellar lesion. Most elderly patients have difficulty with tandem gait purportedly due to general neuronal loss impairing a combination of position sense, strength and coordination. Heel to toe walking is highly useful in testing for ethanol inebriation and is often used by police officers in examining potential “drunk drivers”.
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