Walking Abnormalities

Written by April Kahn | Published on July 9, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Are Walking Abnormalities?

Walking abnormalities are abnormal, uncontrollable walking patterns. They may be inherited or caused by other factors, such as diseases or injuries. Walking abnormalities may affect the muscles, bones, or nerves of the legs.

These abnormalities may be present in the entire leg or in certain parts of the leg, such as the knee or ankle. Problems with the foot may also result in walking abnormalities.

These conditions can be temporary or long term, depending on their cause. Severe walking abnormalities may require long-term physical therapy and medical care. Walking abnormalities are often referred to as gait abnormalities. Gait refers to the pattern of walking.

What Causes Walking Abnormalities?

Difficulty walking may occur temporarily due to insect stings, cuts, bruising, or bone fractures. However, walking abnormalities may also be caused by diseases that affect the legs, brain, nerves, or spine.

There are numerous causes of walking abnormalities. The most common include:

  • arthritis
  • birth defects, such as club foot
  • leg injuries
  • bone fractures
  • infections that damage tissues within the legs
  • shin splints (an injury common to athletes, causing pain in the shins)
  • tendinitis (inflammation of the tendons)
  • psychological disorders, including conversion disorder
  • inner ear infections
  • nervous system disorders, such as cerebral palsy

Although many of these conditions are short term, some, such as cerebral palsy, may cause permanent walking abnormalities.

What Are the Symptoms of Walking Abnormalities?

Walking abnormalities are separated into five groups based on their symptoms:

Propulsive Gait

This walking abnormality is characterized by a slouched, rigid posture. A person with this condition walks with his or her head and neck thrust forward.

Scissors Gait

A person with this abnormality walks with a crouched posture and his or her legs bent slightly inward. A person with scissors gait may walk with his or her knees or legs crossing or hitting each other.

Spastic Gait

A person with spastic gait may drag his or her feet while walking. He or she may also appear to walk very stiffly.

Steppage Gait

A person with this condition walks with his or her toes pointing downward before the back of the foot drops to the ground.

Waddling Gait

A person with this gait waddles from side to side when walking.

A limp is also considered a walking abnormality. A limp may be permanent or temporary.

How Are Walking Abnormalities Diagnosed?

During a physical examination, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and observe the way you walk. He or she may order tests to check your nerve or muscle function. This will help your doctor determine if there is a structural problem causing your condition.

If you’ve had a recent injury or fall, the doctor may order an imaging scan, such as an X-ray, to check for fractures or broken bones. A more in-depth imaging test, such as an MRI, may also be ordered to check for torn tendons and ligaments.

How Are Walking Abnormalities Treated?

A walking abnormality may go away when the underlying condition is treated. If you have a fracture or broken bone, surgery or a cast may be provided to set the bone.

Physical therapy may also be used to help treat walking abnormalities. During physical therapy, you’ll learn exercises designed to strengthen your muscles and correct the way you walk.

If an infection has caused your walking abnormality, antibiotics or antiviral medications will be prescribed to treat the infection, which should improve your symptoms.

If you have a permanent walking abnormality, you may receive assistive devices, such as crutches, a walker, leg braces, or a cane.

Preventing Walking Abnormalities

Congenital (genetic) walking abnormalities may not be preventable. However, abnormalities caused by injury can be avoided.

When taking part in contact sports or extreme activities, such as dirt biking, be sure to wear protective gear. Protecting your legs and feet with kneepads, ankle braces, and protective footwear can minimize the risk of leg and foot injuries.

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