Gait Disorders

The pattern of how a person walks is called their “gait.” If you have a functional gait disorder, your pattern of walking is abnormal enough to cause problems and you may not be able to control it without conscious effort. Gait (and balance) problems may be caused by a neurological disorder or muscle weakness due to lack of exercise or arthritis. 

The primary adverse consequence of a gait disorder is the increased potential to fall and injure yourself, although gait disorders can erode a person’s self esteem and confidence.

Some gait disorders are named by the description of the movement when a person walks.
  • A propulsive gait is a stooped, stiff posture with the head and neck bent forward. It may be caused by toxins (like carbon monoxide poisoning), Parkinson’s disease or certain medications (like haloperidol).
  • A scissors gait is when the legs flex slightly at the hips and knees like you are crouching; the knees and thighs hit or cross in a scissors-like movement. It may be caused by brain trauma or tumor, stroke, cerebral palsy or a host of other conditions.
  • A spastic gait is a stiff walk with foot draggingbecause of a contraction of a long muscle on one side of the body. It may be caused by brain trauma or tumor, stroke, cerebral palsy or other conditions.
  • A steppage gait is when the foot drops; the foot hangs with the toes pointing downward which makes the toes scrape the ground and requires the walker to lift the legs higher than normal. It may be caused by Guillain-Barre syndrome, multiple sclerosis or a spinal cord injury.
  • A waddling gait is a duck-like walk that may appear in childhood or later in life. It may be caused by muscular dystrophy or spinal muscle weakness.

Persons suffering from peripheral neuropathy experience numbness and tingling in their hands and feet. This can cause difficulties in climbing stairs or maintaining your balance. 

Gait abnormality is common in persons with nervous system problems such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and myasthenia gravis. Certain orthopedic treatments like joint replacement, as well as leg amputations or fractures, may also affect your gait.

Our team will obtain a detailed medical history and request a physical and neurological examination. To help us identify impairments and subtle changes that may occur due to the passage of time or the effects of therapy, we will use gait monitoring devices to document the symptoms of your condition.

We will also explore your cognitive abilities since a decline or impairment in cognition may be a factor in a gait disturbance. In addition, we will focus on fall risk assessment, including internal and external risk factors.

Treatment Options
At Houston Methodist, once we understand the cause of your gait disturbance, then we will create a customized treatment plan for your condition and circumstances. We will determine how to keep the disturbance from causing you injury and will treat the underlying condition causing the disturbance. We will also engage physical therapy to help you regain the strength you may have lost. Physical therapy will reduce the risk of falls and other injuries. If your gait abnormality is due to a conversion disorder (physical conditions from stress-related causes), we will help find counseling for you and your family members.

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