Want to learn how to walk again after your brain injury and regain some independence? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Walking after brain injury is a crucial but difficult skill to achieve, mainly because it involves so many different muscle groups and cognitive functions.
That’s why today we’re breaking down the process into an effective guide to walking after brain injury.
We’ll show you all the steps you need to take to regain your walking abilities and get back up on your feet again.
So let’s get started!
Walking After Brain Injury
Walking after brain injury is going to chiefly involve retraining your brain to control your muscles used for walking.
But before you can walk, you have to stand, so that’s where we’ll start.
Standing on your own requires two things: Strength and balance. You’ll need to work on both before doing anything else.
Step 1. Strengthen Legs and Core
If your legs and core are not strong enough to hold you up, you won’t be able to stand, let alone walk.
That’s why the first thing you should do in your rehab process is work on improving your leg and core strength. The more you exercise them, the more they will be able to support your weight.
Sometimes though, people with brain injuries might have trouble moving their legs due to spasticity and/or foot drop.
If this is the case for you, you’ll need to get that straightened out before you’ll be able to start strength training.
The best way to treat spasticity after TBI is through a combination of stretching and range-of-motion exercises. The more you stretch, the easier it will become to move again, and then you can finally start strengthening.
Step 2. Weight Bearing Exercise
Once your legs and trunk are strong enough to support your weight, you’ll need to retrain them to actually do that.
You’ll first do this through weight bearing exercises. These exercises will help your legs and core muscles relearn how to hold your body upright.
Some great weight bearing exercises are “sit to stands” where you practice going from a seated position to standing.
You can also do some weight shifting where you put most of your weight on one leg then move to the other.
Once your body has gotten used to weight bearing again, you’ll be able to move on to balancing exercises.
Step 3. Improve Your Balance
Balance is crucial for both walking and standing, so naturally the next step in learning how to walk is to work on your balance.
Balance exercises can help you regain your strength to stand. Some good exercises you can try are:
- Stand for 10 seconds with your eyes closed
- Start standing with your feet far apart then work on moving them close together
Sometimes balance issues can stem from inner ear or vision problems, which may require a different approach.
Vestibular therapy and vision therapy can often treat these problems and help you regain your balance again.
After you have strengthened your muscles and have had enough practice standing, it’s time to start practicing walking.
Step 4. Task-Specific Gait Training
Task-specific gait training is just a fancy term for exercises that directly involve walking.
Whenever you perform an action, your brain starts forming new neural pathways in response. The more you practice an action, the more these new pathways are reinforced.
When those pathways gets stronger, this makes the connection between your brain and muscles get stronger, which makes it easier to move.
So basically, if you want to get better at walking, the best thing you can do is, well…start walking!
That’s where task-specific gait training comes. It usually starts with assisted forms of walking first, such as walking on a treadmill with a body harness. Then you will most likely work your way up to using a walker or cane, until finally you can walk unsupported!
Think of it like learning to ride a bike. At first you will probably start with training wheels while you learn the right movement. But eventually the training wheels will come off and you’ll start riding on your own.
Step 5. Intensive Mobility Gait Training
The last step in learning to walk again is intensive mobility gait training.
This is just gait training that includes an aerobic aspect where you will continuously perform a movement at moderate intensity.
Some examples of this training include riding a stationary bike or repeatedly standing up and sitting down. Anything that gets your heart pumping.
The goal of intensive mobility training is to increase your endurance so that you will be able to walk without tiring out too quickly and risking an injury from falling.
How Much Exercise Do You Need to Walk Again After TBI?
Research continues to show that long lasting, intensive therapy leads to the best results and helps the brain repair and restructure itself.
You should try to do some form of gait training exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Even just walking around your living room with your walker or cane a few times will greatly improve your chances of walking independently again.
Of course, you should also be careful of tiring yourself out, as that can be very dangerous and increase your risk of falling. It’s important to find the right balance between challenging and exhausting.
Recovering Skills for Walking After Brain Injury
Learning to walk again can be a long and difficult process, but it is achievable with hard work and dedication.
You’ll first need to strengthen your leg and core strength, then work on balance, then learn to stand on your own.
Once you regain the ability to stand, then the real work begins.
You’ll start with task specific exercises, then move up to intensive mobility exercises. FES should be used in tandem with these exercises to boost your mobility.
Eventually, if you follow these steps and faithfully stick to your rehab program you’ll be able to get back on your feet and start walking again on your own.