Search

Walking abnormalities

Definition

Walking abnormalities are unusual and uncontrollable walking patterns. They are usually due to diseases or injuries to the legs, feet, brain, spinal cord, or inner ear.

Alternative Names

Gait abnormalities

Considerations

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:

  • Propulsive gait -- a stooped, stiff posture with the head and neck bent forward
  • Scissors gait -- legs flexed slightly at the hips and knees like crouching, with the knees and thighs hitting or crossing in a scissors-like movement
  • Spastic gait -- a stiff, foot-dragging walk caused by a long muscle contraction on one side
  • Steppage gait -- foot drop where the foot hangs with the toes pointing down, causing the toes to scrape the ground while walking, requiring someone to lift the leg higher than normal when walking
  • Waddling gait -- a duck-like walk that may appear in childhood or later in life

Common Causes

Abnormal gait may be caused by diseases in many 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

  • Propulsive gait:
  • Spastic (scissors) gait:
  • Steppage gait:
  • Waddling gait:
  • Ataxic or broad-based gait

Home Care

Treating the 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 of falls and other injuries.

For an abnormal gait that occurs with conversion disorder, counseling and support from family members are strongly recommended.

For a propulsive gait:

  • Encourage the person to be as independent as possible.
  • Allow plenty of time for daily activities, especially walking. People with this problem are likely to fall because they have poor balance and are always trying to catch up.
  • Provide walking assistance for safety reasons, especially on uneven ground.
  • See a physical therapist for exercise therapy and walking retraining.

For a scissors gait:

  • People with a scissors gait often lose skin sensation. Skin care should be used to avoid skin sores.
  • Leg braces and in-shoe splints can help keep the foot in the right position for standing and walking. A physical therapist can supply these and provide exercise therapy, if needed.
  • Medications (muscle relaxers, anti-spasticity medications) can reduce the muscle overactivity.

For a spastic gait:

  • Exercises are encouraged.
  • Leg braces and in-shoe splints can help keep the foot in the right position for standing and walking. A physical therapist can supply these and provide exercise therapy, if needed.
  • A cane or a walker is recommended for those with poor balance.
  • Medications (muscle relaxers, anti-spasticity medications) can reduce the muscle overactivity.

For a steppage gait:

  • Get enough rest. Fatigue can often cause a person to stub a toe and fall.
  • Leg braces and in-shoe splints can help keep the foot in the right position for standing and walking. A physical therapist can supply these and provide exercise therapy, if needed.

For a waddling gait, follow the treatment your health care provider prescribed.

Call your health care provider if

If there is any sign of uncontrollable and unexplained gait abnormalities, call your health care provider.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

The health care provider will take a medical history and perform a physical examination.

Medical history questions may include:

  • Time pattern
  • Quality (type of gait disturbance)
  • Other symptoms
  • Medications
  • Injury history
  • Illness history
  • Treatments
  • Self and family history

The physical examination will include muscle, bone, and nervous system examination. The health care provider will decide which tests to do based on the results of the physical examination.

References

McGee S. Stance and gait. In: McGee S. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 6.

Thompson PD Nutt JG. Gait disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 22.

Media

    Encyclopedia content is provided as information only and not intended to replace the advice and instruction from your personal physician.