Abnormal gait or a walking abnormality is when a person is unable to walk in a typical way. This may be due to injuries, underlying conditions, or issues with the legs and feet.

Walking may seems to be an uncomplicated activity. However, there are many systems of the body, such as strength, coordination, and sensation, that work together to allow a person to walk with what is considered a normal gait.

When one or more of these interacting systems is not working smoothly, it can result in abnormal gait or walking abnormality.

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A person’s gait describes the way they walk. An abnormal gait may have a range of potential causes.

“Gait” means the way a person walks. Abnormal gait or gait abnormality occurs when the body systems that control the way a person walks do not function in the usual way.

This may happen due to any of the following reasons:

  • illness
  • genetic factors
  • injury
  • abnormalities in the legs or feet

In some cases, gait abnormalities may clear up on their own. In other cases, an abnormal gait may be permanent. In either case, physical therapy can help improve a person’s gait and reduce any uncomfortable symptoms.

Abnormal gait is categorized as one of five types based on the symptoms or appearance of an individual’s walk. They are:

  1. spastic gait
  2. scissors gait
  3. steppage gait
  4. waddling gait
  5. propulsive gait

Spastic gait

Spastic gait occurs when a person drags his or her feet while walking. This type can also make someone appear to be very stiff when walking.

Scissors gait

A person whose legs bend inward will often have a scissors gait. With this type, a person’s legs cross and may hit each other while walking. The crisscross motion may resemble scissors opening and closing.

Steppage gait

Steppage gait occurs when a person’s toes point towards the ground while walking. Often, the toes will scrape against the ground as the person steps forward.

Waddling gait

As the name suggests, a person with a waddling gait moves from side to side when walking. Waddling involves taking short steps as well as swinging the body.

Propulsive gait

Propulsive gait is when a person walks with his or her head and neck pushed forward. It can appear as though the person is rigidly holding a slouched position.

In addition to these five types, a person with a limp is also considered to have an abnormal gait. Similarly to other abnormalities, a limp may be either temporary or permanent. A limp may also clear up without medical intervention.

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Injuries to the legs or feet may cause an abnormal gait in the short term, and in some cases in the long term.

At times, a person may find it difficult to walk due to an acute problem, such as a bruise, cut, or fracture. These may cause them to limp or walk differently but are not considered causes of abnormal gait.

But there are several diseases that can attack the nervous system and legs, resulting in abnormal gait. Some of the most common causes of abnormal gait include:

  • injuries to the legs or feet
  • arthritis
  • infections in the soft tissue of the legs
  • broken bones in feet and legs
  • birth defects
  • infections in the inner ear
  • cerebral palsy
  • stroke
  • tendonitis
  • conversion disorder or other psychological disorders
  • shin splints

Abnormal gait can only officially be diagnosed by a medical professional. A doctor will likely ask a person about their medical history and symptoms and observe how they walk.

Also, a doctor may want to order additional testing, such as for neurological conditions and nerve damage.

Typically, imaging tests are used when a recent injury has occurred, to see the extent of the damage.

If an underlying condition is the cause of an abnormal gait, a person’s walk should correct itself when the condition is treated. This is often true for broken bones, as they can be treated with a cast.

Other injuries may require surgery or physical therapy to help return the gait to normal.

For long-term cases of abnormal gait, it is likely a person will use assistive devices for treatment. These can include:

  • leg braces
  • crutches
  • canes
  • walker

While treatment cannot always correct an abnormal gait completely, it can at least reduce the severity of symptoms in most cases.

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Leg braces may be recommended to prevent or treat an abnormal gait.

In some cases, there is nothing a person can do to prevent an abnormal gait caused by genetics or a medical condition. People can take steps to prevent injuries that cause an abnormal gait, however.

Preventative steps include:

  • avoiding the participation in contact sports
  • wearing protective gear during sports
  • wearing well-fitting footwear during physical activity
  • wearing leg braces if needed

A person with an abnormal gait may develop additional aches and pains associated with their walking pattern. Some causes of an abnormal gait are short-term and easy to treat, while others can last a lifetime.

Physical therapy and other treatments can help alleviate or cure an abnormal gait. People should seek medical advice and treatment if needed to help deal with their condition.