The pattern of how a person walks is called the gait. Gait disturbances are unusual and uncontrollable walking patterns. They are usually due to diseases or injuries to the legs, feet, brain, spinal cord, or inner ear. Different types of gait disturbances occur without a person’s control. Most, but not all, are due to a physical condition.
These are commonly seen and can be caused by a wide variety of conditions ranging from orthopedic injuries to joints, muscles or tendons, to disorders of the nervous system such as those seen in peripheral or spinal nerve damage or diseases of the brain or spinal cord.
The pattern of gait abnormality can give us precious clues as to the nature of the problem, and where it originates. For example, a scissoring gait reflects increased muscle tone and can be seen with spinal cord injuries or brain disorders such as MS.
To properly diagnose a gait disturbance, your doctor will perform a physical examination and you will be asked to walk so they can see the full extent of the disturbance. Your doctor may also order a series of imaging tests, including an x-ray, an MRI to look for damaged ligaments or tendons, and nerve testing.
Once the underlying cause is identified, your doctor can get you started on a treatment plan. You may need to visit a physical therapist, who can teach you specific exercises to strengthen the muscles causing the gait disturbance. A good diagnosis may reveal that a surgical procedure could effectively treat the condition. However, if the gait disturbance is caused by a permanent condition, your doctor may recommend you use an assistive device, like a cane, leg brace, or walker.
While there is no way to prevent gait disturbances that are congenital (genetic), you can protect yourself from leg injuries during sports and strenuous activities by wearing the proper protective gear, such as kneepads and ankle braces.
If you are unsure why you are walking abnormally, contact the Florida Spine Institute. Following a physical examination, your doctor will discuss which tests need to be done to uncover the origin and treatment for your gait disturbance.