What Is a Gait Belt?

Photo of a PT holding a woman with a gait belt.
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A gait belt is a specialized device used in physical therapy. If you are having mobility issues like trouble walking or rising from sitting, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist (PT). Your therapist will work with you to help you improve range of motion, strength, and functional mobility.

Your PT may use various tools to help you move better and more safely during your recovery, such as a gait belt. A gait belt is put around a patient's waist to assist them during functional tasks such as walking or rising from a sitting position. The gait belt can help you maintain balance, and it may also be used to assist you as you move in bed.

Features of a Gait Belt

There are various features of different types of gait belts. Most belts are made of nylon material, much like the seat belt of your car. A typical gait belt is about 4 to 5 feet long.

A buckle on one end allows the belt to be easily fastened. Some belts have a metal buckle, and the gait belt is fed through the buckle and adjusted. Others have a plastic clip that allows for easy donning and doffing of the belt.

Some gait belts have small handles attached to them. These handles, spaced about 2 inches apart along the length of the belt, allow for your physical therapist (or whoever is assisting you with movement) to easily grab onto the belt to help control your movements.

Using a Gait Belt

It is important that you use a gait belt properly. Failure to do so may result in a fall. First, you must put the gait belt on. To do this, wrap the belt around your waist, and feed one end through the buckle. Adjust the belt so it sits just above your waist

It should be snug, but it should not be uncomfortable. The person assisting you should be able to slip their hand between the gait belt and your body.

Bed Mobility

When the gait belt is on, it can be used to assist someone while they move in bed. To do this:

  1. Reach over the person wearing the gait belt, and hold the belt on either side of their waist.
  2. As they move in bed, you can gently push and pull on the belt to assist them in their movements.

If the person you are assisting with bed mobility needs to roll to one side:

  1. Hold the gait belt on the side opposite of the direction they are rolling.
  2. As the person rolls over, gently pull the gait belt, assisting them as they turn in bed.

Be sure not to pull too hard on the gait belt. The belt should be snug enough to help guide motions, but not too tight where it constricts breathing or causes pain while in use.

Transfers

Transferring is the act of moving from a sitting position to a standing position or moving from one chair to another. To use a gait belt to help someone transfer, be sure the belt is securely fastened around the person's waist. Then:

  1. Stand in front of the seated person, bend your knees and keep your back straight, and place both hands on the gait belt on either side of them.
  2. As the person rises from sitting, securely hold the belt and gently pull up. The belt will assist them as they rise.
  3. If the patient starts to lose balance while rising, your hands on the belt on either side of their waist can help stabilize them.

Walking

To use a gait belt to help someone walk:

  1. Place the belt securely around the patient's waist.
  2. Stand to one side of them and grab the belt with one hand in the back just above their buttocks. If you are standing to the person's left, use your right hand to hold the belt. Your left hand can be used to hold their shoulder or arm.
  3. While holding the belt, gently pull up as the person takes steps.
  4. Walk slowly next to them, holding the gait belt securely.

If the gait belt slightly loosens while the person is walking, simply pause and make adjustments to the belt to be sure it is secure.

Balance

The gait belt can be used to work on balance exercises or to help stabilize the patient while they stand to do functional tasks.

To assist the person with balance:

  1. Stand to the back of them, and hold the gait belt with both hands on either side of their waist
  2. If the patient starts to lose balance in one direction or another, simply provide a little support with your hand on the gait belt to help them stabilize.

It is always a good idea to have a chair nearby when assisting a patient while using a gait belt. If the patient gets tired, you can help them sit down to rest.

Common Mistakes

When helping someone move while using a gait belt, there are some common mistakes to avoid. These may include:

  • The belt is too loose
  • The belt is placed too high on the patient's waist
  • The belt is not held securely by the person providing assistance

Be sure the belt is secured properly, is around the patient's waist just above their pelvic bones, and be sure to hold the belt securely while helping the patient with bed mobility, transfers, and walking.

Before using a gait belt, it is a good idea to visit your local PT. He or she can instruct you in proper usage of the belt.

Non-Traditional Gait Belt Uses

Some physical therapists use gait belts for tasks not related to functional mobility. A gait belt may be used in the clinic to provide overpressure to certain joints during exercises. When performing the prone press up for your back, a gait belt held securely over your lumbar spine may provide stabilization as you exercise.

A gait belt may also be used by PTs to assist with joint mobilizations. The belt may be placed around specific areas of your shoulder, knee, or hip to help stabilize one body part while your PT mobilizes the nearby joint.

A Word From Verywell

A gait belt is a useful tool that many physical therapists use. It can be used in home care PT, in the outpatient clinic, or in the hospital to assist patients as they move in bed, in chairs, or when walking. Understanding the proper use of a gait belt can help you provide the best assistance to someone with functional mobility impairments.

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  • Tang R, Holland M, Milbauer M, et al. Biomechanical Evaluations of Bed-to-Wheelchair Transfer: Gait Belt Versus Walking Belt. Workplace Health Saf. 2018;66(8):384-392.