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How to Assess Gait, Stance, and Coordination


George Newman

, MD, PhD, Albert Einstein Medical Center

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2023
Topic Resources

Normal gait, stance, and coordination require integrity of the motor, vestibular, cerebellar, and proprioceptive pathways (see also Movement and Cerebellar Disorders Overview of Movement and Cerebellar Disorders Voluntary movement requires complex interaction of the corticospinal (pyramidal) tracts, basal ganglia, and cerebellum (the center for motor coordination) to ensure smooth, purposeful movement... read more ). Lesions in these pathways cause characteristic deficits:

  • Patients with cerebellar ataxia have difficulty maintaining balance and require a wide gait for stability (see table ).

  • Footdrop due to motor weakness causes a steppage gait (lifting the leg higher than normal to avoid catching the foot on surface irregularities).

  • Pelvic muscle weakness causes waddling.

  • Spastic leg causes scissoring and circumduction.

  • Patients with impaired proprioception must constantly observe placement of their feet to avoid tripping or falling.

How to do the Cerebellar Examination

Coordination testing can help detect ataxic movements. Testing maneuvers include

  • Pointing a finger at one's own nose then to the examiner's finger (finger-to-nose testing)

  • Running the heel from the opposite knee down the shin (heel-to-shin testing)

  • Rapidly tapping the index finger to the thumb

  • Alternating pronation and supination of the hand with increasing speed

Because normal performance of these actions requires intact visual, motor, cerebellar, and proprioceptive pathways, localizing specific anatomic etiologic lesions may be difficult. For example, abnormal results for finger-to-nose or heel-to-shin testing may be caused by motor weakness due to a lesion in the corticospinal pathway or in the cerebellum and its connections. During either maneuver, an intention tremor that causes oscillation from one side to the other suggests cerebellar dysfunction Cerebellar Disorders Cerebellar disorders have numerous causes, including congenital malformations, hereditary ataxias, and acquired conditions. Symptoms vary with the cause but typically include ataxia (impaired... read more .

NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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