Ambulation is the ability to walk from place to place, with or without an assistive device. Locomotion describes the ability to move from one place to the next. In typical human development, independent mobility begins with the locomotion of crawling progressing towards upright ambulation.
This progression of movement doesn’t just affect a child’s independence, but impacts their psychological, social and
cognitive development. The experience of self-locomotion brings self-awareness, increases initiative and a sense of competence. Young children who have restricted mobility due to neuromuscular disorders may experience a decrease in curiosity, initiative and motivation. Research shows a direct relationship between a child’s physical activity level and the achievement of motor milestones. Being able to increase a restricted child’s activity level may help with chronic diseases and obesity later in life.
Seeing how mobility is critical in a child’s development, encouraging independent mobility is important. Early gait training using the support of a gait trainer for children with restricted mobility can help them work towards the goals of ambulation, standing, weight bearing, improved head/body control, increased strength and range of motion. The gait trainer allows for gradual progress; increasing the tolerance for upright weight bearing, increasing distance walked, requiring less assistance or support when walking, with the long term goal remaining more independence standing and walking.
Research has also proven the physical benefits of a gait trainer outweigh those of a treadmill. While the system of a harness and treadmill has many physical benefits, a gait trainer has added cognitive and social benefits as it allows the child to move themselves throughout their own environment.
Using a gait trainer is standard therapy practice within physical therapy because of the many physical benefits a patient experiences.
Benefits of using a Gait Trainer
- A gait trainer offers standing and weight bearing options, strengthening the head, trunk and lower extremities.
- The supportive gait trainer allows the initiation of earlier walking for patients who may require more support.
- The gait trainer allows the patient to practice functional tasks and receives instant feedback from their growing ability to move through space and achieve their goals.
- The gait trainer can adjust for the need for less supports or assistance as the patient gains more independent movement.
- The gait trainer increases a patient’s strength and stamina through core muscle activation, which can carry over to other developmental motor skills, such as transitional movements and floor play.
One of the best things I’ve read about the importance of gait trainer devices is that mobility in early childhood is a product of self-initiated exploration. When considering how to achieve independent mobility for children with restrictions, the best option is to have many options. The gait trainer is one of the key tools for a child’s mobility options. When a child experiences independent mobility, their perspective of the world changes and expands promoting more engagement with their world. Early mobility through the use of a gait trainer can truly let a child make gains on many levels.
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