Definition and Overview

Walking problems are abnormalities and issues that affect the way a person walks. These problems have several possible causes affecting not just the feet and legs but also the brain, muscles, ears, eyes, and spinal cord, among others.

Problems with walking manifest in different forms, such as those affecting the gait, balance, and many others. The good news is there are available remedies and therapies that can either treat a walking issue or help a person adjust to the condition.

Cause of Condition

There are four types of causes linked to walking difficulties:

1. Injury or trauma that causes inflammation and pain

  • Foot problems, such as ingrown, corns and calluses, warts, skin sores, among others
  • Infection
  • Fractures

2. Muscular, joint, or spine related issues

  • Arthritis
  • Muscle injections
  • Poor posture
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Congenital hip dysplasia
  • Shin splints
  • Tendonitis Myositis
  • Torsion of testis
  • Muscle weakness
  • Herniated lumbar disk
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • Deformities

3. Neurological issues

  • Abscess, tumor, injury or trauma affecting the brain or spinal cord
  • Vertigo or migraines
  • Stroke
  • Acute cerebellar ataxia
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Myelopathy
  • Meniere’s inner ear disease and other ear diseases that may affect balance
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Peroneal neuropathy
  • Polyneuropathy
  • Cerebellar nerve degeneration
  • Syringomyelia

4. Other isolated causes

  • Carbon monoxide or manganese poisoning
  • Use of certain medications (causing temporary problems)
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Liver failure or excessive alcohol use
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Obesity
  • Sensory issues, such as numbness

Key Symptoms

Some types of walking problems produce very specific symptoms and have thus been identified by name. These include:

  • Propulsive gait – This is when a person suffers from a stooped posture, causing the head and neck to bend forward.

  • Spastic gait – This is when a person drags one foot along as he walks.

  • Waddling – This refers to a duck-like walk, a problem that may appear either early in childhood or as a person gets older.

  • Steppage – This is characterized by one foot pointing downwards, with the toes scraping the ground when the person walks.

  • Scissors gait – A scissors gait is when the legs are slightly flexed at the hips and knees, causing the knees or thighs crossing like scissors.

A person who is having some type of walking problem will experience the following symptoms:

  • Numbness of the skin in the affected leg
  • Skin sores
  • Inability to walk
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of balance
  • Double vision
  • Motion sickness

Walking problems may also cause major lifestyle changes and a loss of independence. If a problem is caused by an underlying disease, it may also be combined with other symptoms of that disease. For example, a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease will have not only walking problems but also a general stiffening of all his movements caused by muscle rigidity, tremors, stooped posture, softer voice, memory deficiency, drooling, loss of motor skills, and poor speech enunciation, among several others.

Who to See and Types of Treatments Available

Persons who are having walking problems may consult a general physician or surgeon for the treatment of an underlying cause, as well as a physical therapist for the specific treatment of the walking issue.

Medical professionals typically use different techniques to diagnose and find the cause of walking problems. These tests include:

  • Hearing tests
  • MRI
  • CT scan to detect brain issues
  • Inner ear scans

There are generally 5 methods of handling walking problems and these are:

  1. Treatment of underlying cause. With walking issues that are caused by underlying diseases or causes, treating these often also resolves the walking problem. One such example is when an injury or trauma affects a person’s ability or pattern of walking; when the injury heals, the walking problem also goes away.

  2. Long-term physical therapy. Some walking disorders are long-term issues that require assistance and specific treatment.

  3. Surgery. Some physical issues that hinder a person’s ability to walk properly, usually those caused by joint problems, may also be treated with surgery.

  4. Walking devices. Both temporary and long-term walking disorders may also be remedied using leg braces, shoe splints, or a cane.

  5. Medications. Certain drugs such as muscle relaxants and anti-spastic drugs sometimes help improve a person’s gait-related walking problems.
    References:

  • McGee S. Stance and gait. In: McGee S. Evidence-Based Physical Diagnosis. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 6.

  • Thompson PD Nutt JG. Gait disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 22.

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