152. 10 Tips for Learning How to Walk Again

10 Tips for Learning How to Walk Again || Ann Ning Learning How

I love looking at the WordPress page that tells me the terms people have entered into a search engine and that’s how they find me. No one finds me (as far as I can tell) because they Google, “What is an AVM?” People are more likely to search for really random stuff, e.g., What is a folk hero, Gabby Giffords, the nuances of ice cream, parting the wild horse’s mane, acupuncture and cupping, and this week, someone searched for “learning how to walk again.” So I figured I’d take the bull by the horns and write down some things my PTs have taught me as I’ve been learning to walk again (Caution:  this is a work zone). If I forgot anything important I’m sure M will tell me.

Please remember what I said Monday: my condition is in flux, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to regain (some) skills that I’ve lost. I have dear friends who do not have this privilege and are learning/have mastered the art of wheelchair living, how to deal with a degenerative condition, or how to deal with paralysis that enters your life in the blink of an eye and stays. Forever. If you fit this bill, <3. Come back tomorrow because this afternoon I practiced my kitchen mobility and made something just for you in celebration of your hardcoreness.

In the meantime, here are some of the tricks that have helped me learn to walk again. Some of them are ideals I have not attained yet, but a girl can dream.

Tips for learning how to walk again:

1) Use your core: I have only a vague notion of what my core is, but all this time I’ve just imagined that I’m an apple and I have to focus on my core, or I’m supposed to engage the trunk of my tree. I make jokes about it, but seriously, the core is where my stability begins. Strong core = steadier sitting, standing, walking.

2) Dig in with your toes: If you’re working on balance, use your toes for all they’re worth. If you’re falling forward, press your toes into the ground and fight to remain upright.

3) Tall Tall Tall like a Tree Tree Tree: Resist the temptation to hunch over your walker because you’re leaning into it at full strength. Normal walkers do so in an upright position.

4) Midline: This goes with number 3, but again, posture is key. You also want to stand/walk so if someone saw you they could draw an imaginary line down your middle and you’d be symmetrical. Evenly distribute your weight on your legs – don’t lean to one side, like I do.

5) Breathe: PTs have an uncanny ability to tell when you’re not breathing, even when you’re not aware that you’re holding your breath. Also, M (37) has informed me that breathing in is not enough. I have to exhale, too. She’s so demanding!

6) Stance = Hip Width: People like me often use a wide base of support when walking because we think it helps us balance better. (What do you do with a drunken sailor?) But a more natural gait includes having your feet about hip-width apart.

7) Rotate your hips: Well, don’t sashay out of control or anything, but there is an element of hip-rotation to normal walking. I imagine the hip joint rolling around in the socket, and then when the hip moves forward you’re supposed to “drop” the hip in front as you plant your foot on the ground.

8) Heel to toe: Speaking of planting your foot, get a good heel-strike, then roll forward, shifting your weight from the heel to the toe of the foot.

9) Swing your arms: Step with left foot and swing right arm. Step with right foot and swing left arm. Repeat. Yes, I seriously have to think about this. And no, it isn’t looking fabulous yet because my left arm still looks like a chicken wing pinned to my side more often than I had hoped.

10) Know how to fall: Falling is a part of learning how to walk again, so accept it and don’t be scared. I have prepared myself for falling by habitually keeping my tongue on the roof of my mouth so I don’t bite it if I lose my balance, and I will be getting some nice veneers if I knock all my teeth out. At one of my first gymnastics classes as a young’un, we learned how to fall. We lined up on the mat and our teacher would give us a shove from the direction of her choice. Our job was to draw our arms in and roll around on the floor like a ball. Try not to put your arm out if you fall – it might break, or get otherwise hurt. Also, try to have wall radar – know where the walls are and if you fall, try to break your fall against a wall.

UPDATE August 2018thank you for reading this.  It turns out that there are a lot of mobility seekers out there who land on this page.  WELCOME!  I survived a cataclysmic medical event in 2011.  Gait training will be my way of life.  It’s been almost 7 years since I learned to walk.  I still think of these tips daily.  Here are some additional resources that will be helpful to you.  Happy Walking!

Help Matt walk again at ShreddedGrace.com – click on the magic wand!

This is part of my Shredded Grace: Reaching Higher Series.

You can buy the book here: Learning How Vol. 5 on Amazon – everything is ALWAYS non profit.

Book Description: Welcome to Survivorship 101 If you didn’t die and you’re wondering what to do next, this book is for you. Specifically, it’s for Marlene – because she survived TWICE and there’s still a whole lot of living left to do. I got my friends to help me write this book to prove a point – Recovery is a Team Sport. I survived a Cataclysmic Medical Event in 2011. When the dust settled I looked around me and began my adventures in RecoveryLand. Over the past 7 years I realized that “Learning How” has grown into “Shredded Grace.” FYI, we’re all Surviving SOMETHING. But even if you wouldn’t call yourself a Survivor you know one, or you will. Learning How books are always Non Profit. Learning How to Reach is a Survivor Handbook. This is what’s inside: 1. Introduction – Welcome to the Club 2. Is it Ok that you lived? Decision Day – Ruth 3. There’s No Crying in Baseball – Why walking is SCARY but you should do it Anyway 4. How to Cultivate Survivor GRIT – Matt Hankey 5. The Problem of Pain 6. Best Foot Forward – How to Use a Medical Resume 7. I’ll Fly Away – Mental Health Issues – the Marine 8. The Power of Possibility – A Practitioner Pep Talk – Coach Randy 9. How to Find Help – Trainer David 10. Why Survivors Have Body Image Issues – Jessica Smurfette, RD 11. The Measure of Success – Matt Hankey 12. The Bossy and Sassy Show – How to Choose a Medical ID – Megan 13. We Can Hear You – What to do when Someone You Love is Asleep in the Hospital 14. Champion If you cannot read, please watch the vids on YouTube @shreddedgrace – there’s also a lot of other content online. ShreddedGrace.com @shreddedgrace

54 thoughts on “152. 10 Tips for Learning How to Walk Again

  1. Wow, the description of learning to fall in your gymnastics class as a young’un is pretty funny! (“a shove from the direction of her choice”)
    Doesn’t life seem like that sometimes? It’s good to be reminded that there is purpose behind it.

  2. Having to re-learn to do anything, really does give you a greater appreciation of that skill than ever before. I have, what I always thought was, a great tip for when you graduate on to “stairs/curbs”. I had one strong, well corrdinated, leg while the other was not so cooperative, so I don’t know if this will apply. “The good go to heaven and the bad go to hell”. Translation: When going up a stair or curb lead with your stronger(good) leg. When descending, lead with your bad leg. It serves me well to this day. Stay strong Ann

    • Hi, Charles – A (6) told me the same thing at one of my first OP PT sessions! I have a weaker leg (the left one) so it definitely applies – I didn’t fancy the memory trick when he first told it to me since of course I was thinking, That isn’t scriptural! But I have to confess that I think of it every time I go up and down a curb. I haven’t met a lot of people (I see lots of folks at Rehab, but try not to get all up in other people’s business) who can directly relate to this sort of thing, so I’m so glad you’re reading – thank you! ☺

      • Hi, Marlene – Wow – what a scary time. But I’m so glad to hear that you have a strong husband who is an excellent chair handler. Best wishes for strong (and soon) walking!

      • Congratulations on going home! 10 months is a long time – but you did it. Next stop: walking. I’m glad you’re determined – and really happy to contribute to the hope factor. Keep trying and best wishes for strong (and soon) walking!!

    • My left side is the compromised side, but not paralyzed. But I’ve seen lots of people w worse off “sides” learn to have great mobility! Best wishes to your Dad 🙂

  3. I just found your blog and I think it is amazing and completely relateable; especially this post on how to walk. I woke up paralyzed from a back surgery and am on my own path to recovery. I always forget to breathe and hear that command at least 15 times per PT session. In the beginning I always closed my eyes, cause it just seemed better to not see what my body couldn’t do. I look forward to reading more of your blog and wish you well on your recovery!!

    • Hi, Stephanie – I’m so glad you found me! Wow, what a scary thing to wake up to. And yes, PTs have an uncanny ability to sense when you’re holding your breath. I’ve heard of some people doing better with their eyes closed – I’m not one of them but I wish I were – having Spidey Sense is something else we’ve practiced in Therapy. Thanks for reading and I wish you the best!

  4. Hi, this is more a question of rehabilitative physiotherapy, my fiance woke up paralysed from the waist down one day and is now undergoing physio, she is concerned that all the physio seems to do is talk a lot and tell stories rather than focus on getting her walking again. Out of an hour appointment she is on her feet or doing exercises for about 10 minutes (surely thats not right….is it? )

  5. Hi, I hope I will be one who merits a reply because I need it. Three years ago I underwent surgery for knee replacement. Two weeks after the surgery my patella detached and the healing wound had to be opened to reattach the patella, after about a month of tis last surgery I got an infection and had to have another surgery to clean the implant., but this time the wound did not heal and was becoming necrotic, so I have to have another surgery and get a flap and graft some skin from my thigh sto cover the wound. After all these surgeries, recovery, immobilization, etc. m knee never healed the way it was supposed to be, the room is very deficient and my foot twisted to the left. I was on therapy until the end of last year and now I do my exercises and ride the stationary bike, but has been unable to walk because not only the operated leg is weak, but the other knee hurts badly and I am not supposed to have any pain medicine because it was damaging my stomach. My dream is to walk again, but even standing up hurts a lot. Do you have any advice for me? I would appreciate if you answer or email me . Thanks,

    • Hi, Bertha – that sound so painful!! So sorry. Acupuncture has really helped w my pain and mobility. My “good side” is now painful bc of all the compensation like it sounds yours is doing. I started with Trad Chinese Medicine when I felt out of options and even though I started late it has been a Godsend. My CMD is a NINJA – she used to direct acupuncture in a Chinese hospital and has vast experience. If you can find a great practitioner (ask around for recommendations) it’s at least worth a consultation. I have also seen improvement as I near the end of Therapy and have found extremely skilled people to help me – a Personal Trainer and Athletic Trainer. They spotted my problem areas (quads, glutes) and work with me to strengthen other areas to compensate. Great that you’re keeping up w your own exercises – the more I move the better I feel. Also Google pool therapy in your area. It was too expensive for me to continue when insurance changed but I use the whirlpool at the gym and swim every chance I get. Moving in water is great – hot water also relieves pain. Hang in there – trying to walk is super scary. It’s still scary bc I still have awful balance but it’s worth it! 🙂 atnt

      Ps check out my post on the AlterG antigravity treadmill –

  6. I am convinced that there isn’t anything you need to know that can not be found on the internet !
    On April 24, 2014 I had a right Hip Replacement. I am doing amazing but wanted tips on how to retrain my muscles to “walk like a girl”. I Googled “how to learn to walk again” and presto your blog came up.
    While deliberating on whether to put myself through this major surgery I was talking to my BF who is an Operating Room Nurse. She was trying to convince me that I did not want to spend the rest of my life compensating for my bad hip. In frustration, she said “have you ever watched yourself walk”? To which I said “no”. So, she said “well, you walk like a gorilla” !! That cracked me up laughing but it was the perfect words to get me going.
    Thanks for sharing your experience. I begin PT on Monday to re-learn to “walk like a girl”.

    • Hi! So glad you and your new hip are doing well. That’s hysterical what your BF said – only a really good friend would use the word “gorilla” freely. I cannot say that I “walk like a girl.” I can say, though, that I walk, and most of the time I walk without falling down. However I am improving and continue to pursue gait training aggressively. I’d say the biggest factors in getting my left hip (my left side is compromised) to look better are (in no particular order) 1) Weight-Bearing: practice putting weight on the weaker side; stand in front of a mirror to make sure you’re not leaning (I leaned really badly for over a year. Mom never told me bc she was just glad I was on my feet.); stand on one foot (in a corner so you’re safe), shift your weight from side to side – just get comfortable; 2) Hip rotation – I think this is supposed to help with a more feminine gait; but for me it’s just a more “human” gait. Watch the secret service walk beside the President or the West Wing reruns. 3) strong core – I have greater control if I use my core more. I’ve seen improvement since my Personal Trainer started making me do the Farmer’s Carry with kettlebells. He’s also given me lots of ab and core work to override the known weaknesses in my hips when I am moving. Have a great time at PT! 🙂 atnt

  7. I had a car hit me while I was walking two years ago while walking and have not walked alone since! Can you help?

    • Hi, Heather – I’m so sorry about your injury. I can give you some general advice based on my own experience but of course I must offer the following disclaimers: A) I am not a doctor nor do I have any sort of medical background, and B) I can walk but my gait is still flawed. The degree of flawed-ness is open to debate, but the consensus is that it’s definitely at least significant. I’ll email you separately with some questions. Thanks, atnt

  8. Your site has been so helpful–for two reasons: Your TopTen Tips for
    Walking are what I am currently struggling with. It’s so hard to remember everything at once, but when you do, it’s magical. Second, thank you for creating a forum where people like me can find other to relate to. You get close to your PR therapist, but not to other patients–you’d think. My story is this: Everything normal 2/1, then what GP thought was arthritis was a serious staph infection inside of my entire spine, cervicalto lower lumbar. No reason, no previous surgery. Became septic, “died” twice, was in a coma for a month.

    When I woke up, I was paralyzed, and when I started to move, I was more like a cerebral palsy patient–arms.

    But thanks to an attentive, loving husband, daughter, family and community, I’m coming back. My upper body is almost normal although I still knock and spill a lot. I’m still in a wheelchair most of the time, but each day brings more success on the walker. I’m excited now, but that’s after my Pitty Party and anger phases.
    Again, thank you thank you , Debbie.

    • Hi Debbie – thank you so much for your note. I was so encouraged by it although your story is harrowing indeed. I am glad your family is so supportive and you’re on your way back. Wishing you strong (and soon) walking!!

  9. Hi there, I fractured my acetabular in a bad car accident in May. I have not been able to weight barring for almost 12 weeks. I have 1 week left until I start to walk again, and I have no idea what to expect. I’m not sure if it’s going to be excruciating pain, or if I’ll feel sore like I’m working out for the first time in awhile. I’m just ready to get my life back as I just turned 21. This whole experience has really opened my eyes and has made me really appreciate the small things in life. Thank you for your time, this all has been helpful!

    • Hi, Shane – congrats on turning 21! This is a lot to deal with, huh? But I’m excited for you bc you’re close to walking! Even if it hurts I bet you’ll be so excited you’ll do it anyway – just make sure you keep your people informed re the pain so they can monitor you. In the beginning especially, every step is a choice bc of the pain/fear. But since we have the opportunity to walk again the choice is easier. Thanks for your note!

  10. Thanks so much for this tips. I was diagnosed with GBS Syndrome and was paralysed from neck down. I use a walker around the house. Balance is coming up well.. Am working so much on my core since my hips and waist wobble but improving now.we are also trying the cane.

    • Hi, Susan! Thanks for reading. I’ve never met anyone w GBS before – I had to Google it. I’m so glad your balance is coming back. I hear ya on the core. You’d think I’d have abs of steel by now but….

  11. Goggled how to learn how to walk again and your web site appeared,I have MS,but I sooooooo want to walk again,I RECENTLY got a power chair ,it’s easy to forget, but what my concern is I really need a good PT but I have no idea where to start any suggestions. I am so ready to get my life back. Fear of falling is VERRRY high. Thank you for encourging words .Kay

    • Hi, Kay! Thanks for stopping by. I have a few suggestions: 1) Fear of Falling: I addressed this when my hemiparesis started and I got more afraid of falling by a)keeping my tongue on the roof of my mouth so I wouldn’t bite it out b)Making a conscious effort to be aware of the walls and furniture so in case I fall I know immediately where to reach to break my fall c) Talking to my dentist about getting veneers in case I ever knocked my teeth out. They make really nice ones now, but she said I’d never need them. But it diffused some of the fear to have a plan in case anything happened. Regarding finding a PT, I simply went to the places my rehab teams set up for me. Except this last time when I chose the National Rehab Hospital in DC. I chose it bc they have the equipment (harnesses etc) that I knew I would need. I have also had good success with going in person to speak with the receptionist and explaining that I’ve done this for a long time and have been informed that gait traIning will likely be a way of life for me, so I’d really appreciate a PT who has the appropriate experience. I know, this is borderline pushy, I felt, but I figured I started being able to tell the difference bw nice people and nice people who had the skill level to help me, and I decided to ask. Every PT program I have participated in at a hospital has involved formal Goal-Setting, so if you go in and state your goal very clearly, “I want to walk again” it will probably help. Also inquire if there is anyone on staff with MS or related experience.
      When I transitioned to a regular Gym I went in there and asked if Personal Training was even an option and said I had a good work ethic and would do whatever my Trainer said but (s)he had to know what he was doing and I was beginning to be able to tell. Essentially I signaled that I meant business, I had clear goals, I was willing to work, I knew my weaknesses (e.g. core strength, balance, spatial awareness), and I asked for help. Also, I have made an effort to inform my new people (especially as I have gotten better, more aware, and more verbal) of things like, “I have a lot of trouble with tall kneeling [or whatever]; “I am concerned that I’m going to fall on my face during this exercise.” “I’m getting tired and nervous – could you please stand closer on my left?” and my personal favorite – one I communicated via email, “I forgot to tell you but I have a hole in my head (bottom left, near left ear) where they did not replace the skull. I’m not expecting to fall on your watch but in the event that I do I’m just saying I’m supposed to fall not on my head, k?” They both loved that one :). But really, keeping communication open and people informed is helpful bc if they know you’re concerned they will try to address it.
      I learned from a friend who is a transplant survivor to be informed about my condition, to be able to talk about it etc. Also, my piano teacher had MS – I never thought about it as a kid but she was the one who modeled what having mobility problems looked like. She had a power scooter for outside but inside she used a walker or the walls to get around. She is an astonishingly gifted musician and a beautiful person and now that this happened to me I will always be grateful for her quiet example of what living with disability and earning a living and it totally not being a big deal, looked like. It’s going to be scary (I was terrified) so be brave! Hug to you – it is so great that you want to walk, it is just hard to get started. I felt better about everything when I met people in person and talked to them about my fears and my goals. A lot of my initiatives, like transitioning from PT to Personal Training, and learning to cook again, began with a Google search. You’ve already taken step 1! :)atnt

  12. I see that this posted in 2013, 2 years ago. I don’t even know if you still do this blog! Anyway, I’m recovering from hip surgery. and am having a hard time learning to walk; this article really helped! I too was “walking on one side”. The tips about rolling hips, and keeping my feet hip width apart were especially effective.
    Thank you so much!

    • Hi, Alison – I find when I’m tired I walk on one side even worse. My people think it’s funny – and I do, too – bc it’s SO obvious. All of this takes a lot of concentration! Happy Walking 🙂 ann

  13. Left arm should swing w left leg while right arm swings backward. On the right leg step right arm swings forward while left arm swings back staying with left leg. This arm swing is a counter torque to the hip rotation, and each forward swing provides momentum for the same side hip rotation.

    • This is as “out there” sounding to me as the time that Trainer D told me to lead with the ball of the foot :). (?!?!?!) But if you’re walkin’ you’re walking’!!

  14. Hello,
    I came across this blog when looming for exercises for my daughter who has nerve damage from a viral infection and hasn’t been able to walk for a week. She’s 17 and at the end of her senior year. She’s already had to be in a wheelchair for her senior banquet so we are hoping she can walk when she graduates. She’s an athlete and really frustrated with her condition. She is supposed to play soccer in college in 2 months and we are still working on walking . She is using a walker now in hopes to strengthen her legs. Are there different exercises or tips with this situation. Her feet drag at the toe area when she tried to walk. They also turn in a little and it looks like she’s gonna trip her self. Any information you have is appreciated.

  15. Hi Ann, here is Anna, who was also an AVM owner. We share love of DOING SOMETHING and we both enjoy Alter G (actually i learned about it from you!). i had to take some time off but now, when started again, i open my session with 5 min. going backward. Really weird, but . Ever tried it?

  16. Thank you for posting. I am status post bilateral knee replacements and feel like I have not reached “normal” walking yet. I hope we both heal.

  17. I had Physical Therapy today and seem to making good progress. What strikes me from reading all of this is that I Am working toward two goals: one is to adapt to my new challenges; two is to recover my lost abilities.I’d rather recover than adapt, but want to be realistic.

    • Adapt vs Recover is a really interesting distinction. I never really thought about it like that, but I agree with you – I’d rather recover than adapt. HOWEVER – even though I’m 7 years out from my injury, gains are still coming. It has not been determined what I will or will not recover in terms of skills. So since I refuse to recognize a timeline for this I decided that while I wait I will just go for the adaptation root. Doing things differently but achieving a desired outcome has been powerful – it builds my confidence. Adaptation has BECOME recovery in a way – eg I play the piano differently. But I play with a lot more freedom since I don’t use my eyes. Sorry, I’m blabbering. But the bottom line is, I will always miss some things and wish I could have recovered some lost abilities overnight. But I have found profound value in the adaptation process. Be encouraged today and keep on going!

  18. I am relearning how to walk after 2 months in the hospital and this is so helpful. My muscles feel like mush but your suggestions give me something to focus on. Thank you!!

    • Hi, Chantrise – I totally understand the mushy muscle thing!! They told me the core atrophied super fast – but in my experience (w the right help) when it is built up and tightened it’s so exciting! (It’s happened to me when I’ve hit speed bumps after inpatient). Best wishes for successful walking!!

  19. Hi, I’m not sure if you will have any recommendations or not but its worth a try. My mum has struggled with her mobility for probably 20 years when she had her first stroke and learnt to walk again, she has since had a spinal stroke and so again learnt to walk again. Now whenever she has any ailments it is her mobility that is straight away compromised. We are currently in a situation where she is in respite care and they want her to remain in permanent care because of her lack of mobility and balance. All the physios seem to do now is to just try to get her to stand or maybe shuffle a couple of steps. I would love her to be able to maybe be doing some exercises while sitting or lying to maybe help strengthen and assist with the process???
    Thank you and thank you for your site, it is great to read through and I love the inspiration it filters through to readers.

    • Janine – I’m sorry it took so long for me to respond. Your mom sounds really hardcore. The only thing I can say is from my experience as a patient – Goal Setting has been and always will be the cornerstone of all of my medical interactions.

      I use a Medical Resume when I meet new providers. Even for old providers I have done a “Goal Reset” and I submit in writing or in VERY CLEAR verbal terms what my goals are. Basically, you get to say what you want. And they will tell you whether or not it is reasonable, or if they are up to the challenge. In general, people who are good at what they do like a challenge, especially if you go in there prepared with goals. I try not to be mean about it, but at this stage in the game I cannot afford the time or money to play around.

      Please also see 366. How to get the most out of Therapy

      Best wishes to you and your mom. Again. I’m sorry it took so long for me to reply. bye 🙂 atnt

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