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Health Advice: Watch Your Parents Walk

Posted January. 23, 2006 03:24,   


The lunar New Year, a chance to spend time with your parents, is only a week away. When you go see them, check if there are any changes in the way they walk. In most cases, parents will not tell children they have not seen for a long time that they are not feeling well, to avoid worrying them.

The manner in which one walks gives an impression of that person to others, but certain diseases will cause people to walk in a particular manner as well. Let’s see what we can read from one’s walking motion in terms of health and ways to treat disorders.

Walking Like a Duck—

If one walks like a duck, with his or her hips drawn out, and with the back slightly bent and the upper body stiff, it often is a case of Spinal Canal Stenosis. This disorder usually affects patients over the age of 50, and it is a disorder which involves bone or cord growth that presses the nerves in the spine.

If a patient straightens his or her back, the nerves are more severely compressed, causing pain and making standing up straight difficult. In addition, patients often have cramps in their legs within 10 minutes of walking.

To treat this disorder, surgery to remove the bone or cord on the nerves is necessary.

Walking With a Forward Stoop—

Symptoms of degenerative cervical syndrome include walking with a forward stoop and tottering like an inebriated person. It is caused by a narrow spinal canal in which part of the spinal cord turns into bone, compressing the nerves around the neck.

The nerves around the neck affect the limbs so one is able to see symptoms of the syndrome in a patient’s arms and legs. Sufferers are also sometime afflicted with hand weakness, making it difficult for syndrome sufferers to use chopsticks or button shirts. If the symptoms are not severe, physical and drug therapy can be used, but if the symptoms are serious, natural recovery is difficult and surgery is often necessary.

Mincing Steps, Shaking Hands—

Walking with a slightly bent back and short steps, or dragging one’s feet without picking them up from the ground implies the possibility of Parkinson’s Disease. This disease is caused by a deficiency in a neurotransmitter called dopamine, causing muscles to become stiff, hands to shake, and the body to become languid.

When walking, one’s arm movements will become smaller and smaller, and in some cases, they will not move at all, but become slightly bent and “stick” to one’s upper body.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease manifest themselves subtly, and if people around a patient do not observe carefully, it can be difficult to spot in its early stages. One early symptom is hand trembling when the patient is relaxed, especially watching TV.

So far, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s, and the only way is to alleviate the symptoms is with drug therapy, as is the case with high blood-pressure patients.

Walking With Both Shoulders Pushed Backwards—

Lumbar degeneration disorder causes the spines of 40 to 60 year olds to become crooked. Most sufferers are women, and it is particularly common among Asian cultures where it is normal to work sitting or crouching. In order to prevent one’s upper body from leaning forward, a patient unconsciously presses his or her chest forward while flinging the shoulders back.

The knee and hip joints spread apart, causing sufferers to look bent over. Since the problem is a bent spine, physical therapy and surgery are used to treat it.

Jin-Han Lee likeday@donga.com