Walking abnormalities can be caused by many different types of problems. Problems with the joints, (such as arthritis), bones (such as deformities), circulation (such as peripheral vascular disease), or even pain can make it difficult to walk properly. Diseases or injuries to the nerves, muscles, brain, spinal cord, or inner ear can affect normal walking.
The pattern of how a person walks is called the gait. Different types of walking problems occur without a person's control. Most, but not all, are due to a physical condition.
Some walking abnormalities have been given names:
Abnormal gait may be caused by diseases in different areas of the body.
General causes of abnormal gait may include:
This list does not include all causes of abnormal gait.
CAUSES OF SPECIFIC GAITS
Spastic or scissoring gait:
The conditions that cause spastic or scissoring gait can also cause steppage gait.
Ataxic, or broad-based, gait:
Treating the underlying cause often improves the gait. For example, gait abnormalities from trauma to part of the leg will improve as the leg heals.
Physical therapy almost always helps with short-term or long-term gait disorders. Therapy will reduce the risk for falls and other injuries.
For an abnormal gait that occurs with conversion disorder, counseling and support from family members are strongly recommended.
For any gait problem that is likely to be long term, reduce fall risk by modifying one's surroundings. Keep pathways well-lit and free of clutter like wires and other hazards. Remove loose rugs and install grab bars or railings.
For a propulsive gait:
For a scissoring or spastic gait:
For a steppage gait:
For a waddling gait, follow the treatment your health care provider prescribed. Bracing, canes and walkers can be of help.
For a magnetic gait due to hydrocephalus, walking may improve after the excess fluid is treated.
If there is any sign of uncontrollable and unexplained gait abnormalities, contact your provider.
The provider will take a medical history and perform a physical examination.
Medical history questions may include:
The physical examination will include muscle, bone, and nervous system examination. The provider will decide which tests to do based on the results of the physical examination.
Magee DJ, Manske RC. Assessment of gait. In: Magee DJ, Manske RC, eds. Orthopedic Physical Assessment. 7th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2021:chap 14.
Thompson PD, Nutt JG. Gait disorders. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 25.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 1/23/2023
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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