What is Gait Abnormality and How Can You Monitor it?

Updated: Jul 14

If you’re struggling to walk normally without pain, then you may be suffering from an abnormal gait. Here’s everything you need to know about what it is and how to effectively monitor it.

Gait abnormality is an issue that can have major implications for your long-term health. If you fail to recognise what it is and ways to treat it, you’ll find it increasingly hard to do the things you love moving forward.

The most common symptoms of gait abnormality are when you’re having difficulty walking, balancing, or remaining steady.

In some cases, it can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded, sick, or give you double vision.

If these symptoms sound familiar to you, or you’re just interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, then this guide will definitely help.

What is gait?

Gait is a term used to describe the pattern of how a person walks. It gives medical professionals a clear indication of whether someone is experiencing any neurologic, muscular, or skeletal problems.

There are two phases to gait – the swing phase and the stance phase. The swing phase starts when the foot leaves the ground and ends when the heel strike the same foot. The stance phase is the activity that happens when the foot is touching the ground from the heel strike to the toe lifting off the ground.

The stance phase makes up around 60% of the gait cycle, with the swing phase making up the other 40%. By simply looking at these two phases, a medical professional can usually diagnose a gait abnormality.

What causes gait abnormalities?

There are many potential causes of temporary gait abnormalities. For example, if you sustain an injury, you may start to subconsciously alter the way you walk to avoid causing pain to the problem area.

More specifically, arthritis, gout, obesity, and spinal cord compression are specific conditions that lead to gait troubles.

Other causes include trauma, inflammation, or in more serious cases, the result of muscular neurological issues.

Abnormal gait is often categorised as one of five types, based on the symptoms or appearance of how you walk.

  • Spastic gait – this when a person drags their feet while walking or if they appear to look very stiff when walking.

  • Scissors gait – this category is used for a person whose legs bend inward, often crossing and hitting each other while walking – thus, the crisscross motion imitating a pair of scissors.

  • Steppage gait – a sign of steppage gait is when a person’s toes point towards the ground while walking, usually scraping against the ground.

  • Waddling gait – this is when a person waddles from side to side as they walk.

  • Propulsive gait – this is when a person walks with their head and neck pushed forward.

It’s worth noting that a limp is also considered an abnormal gait.

If your abnormal gait is impacting your quality of life it may be worth consulting your doctor or biomechanist to analyse whether you have a spinal or foot issue that could be contributing. We have put together some free guides addressing some common foot and spinal conditions, how to source correct footwear, and where you may be able to seek further advice.

Ways to identify and treat gait problems

The good news is that gait abnormalities are relatively easy to diagnose for yourself.

If you’re finding it hard to walk, balance or remain steady, it’s time to check your shoes. One of the easiest ways of monitoring your gait is to look at the soles of your shoes. Someone with abnormalities will have wear patterns caused by overpronation or supination on one side.

If this is the case, then it’s important to take action before a problem develops or an existing one worsens. Book yourself in for a physical and neurological examination (gait analysis) with your local doctor.

There’s nothing to worry about. In most cases, investing in a quality shoe-worn insole has been found to help the gait biomechanics.

Taking necessary precautions like having a gait analysis can also stop the issue from escalating, such as:

  • Avoiding participation in contact sports or wearing protecting gear while playing

  • Wearing well-fitted footwear

  • Wearing leg braces (if required)

Whatever you do, don’t put off seeing a doctor. Look after your feet and your body, and you’ll be able to continue living the life you love.

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