Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Walking/gait abnormalities

Table of Contents


Walking abnormalities are unusual and uncontrollable walking patterns that are usually due to diseases or injuries to the legs, feet, brain, spinal cord, or inner ear.

Alternative Names

Gait abnormalities


The pattern of how a person walks is called the gait. Many different types of walking problems occur without a person's control. Most, but not all, are due to some physical condition.

Some walking abnormalities have been given names:

  • Propulsive gait -- a stooped, stiff posture with the head and neck bent forward
  • Scissors gait -- legs flexed slightly at the hips and knees like crouching, with the knees and thighs hitting or crossing in a scissors-like movement
  • Spastic gait -- a stiff, foot-dragging walk caused by a long muscle contraction on one side
  • Steppage gait -- foot drop where the foot hangs with the toes pointing down, causing the toes to scrape the ground while walking, requiring someone to lift the leg higher than normal when walking
  • Waddling gait -- a duck-like walk that may appear in childhood or later in life

Common Causes

Abnormal gait may be caused by diseases in many different areas of the body.

General causes of abnormal gait may include:

  • Arthritis of the leg or foot joints
  • Conversion disorder (a psychological disorder)
  • Foot problems (such as a callus, corn, ingrown toenail, wart, pain, skin sore, swelling, or spasms)
  • Fracture
  • Injections into muscles that causes soreness in the leg or buttocks
  • Infection
  • Injury
  • Legs that are different lengths
  • Myositis
  • Shin splints
  • Shoe problems
  • Tendonitis
  • Torsion of the testis

This list does not include all causes of abnormal gait.


  • Propulsive gait:
    • Carbon monoxide poisoning
    • Manganese poisoning
    • Parkinson's disease
    • Use of certain drugs including phenothiazines, haloperidol, thiothixene, loxapine, and metoclopramide (usually drug effects are temporary)
  • Spastic (scissors) gait:
    • Brain abscess
    • Brain or head trauma
    • Brain tumor
    • Cerebrovascular accident (stroke)
    • Cerebral palsy
    • Cervical spondylosis with myelopathy (a problem with the vertebrae in the neck)
    • Liver failure
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Pernicious anemia
    • Spinal cord trauma
    • Spinal cord tumor
    • Syphilitic meningomyelitis
    • Syringomyelia
  • Steppage gait:
    • Guillain-Barre syndrome
    • Herniated lumbar disk
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Muscle weakness of the tibia
    • Peroneal neuropathy
    • Poliomyelitis
    • Spinal cord injury
  • Waddling gait:
    • Congenital hip dysplasia
    • Muscular dystrophy
    • Muscle disease (myopathy)
    • Spinal muscle atrophy
  • Ataxic or broad-based gait
    • Acute cerebellar ataxia
    • Alcohol intoxication
    • Brain injury
    • Damage to nerve cells in the cerebellum of the brain (cerebellar degeneration)
    • Medications (phenytoin and other seizure medications)
    • Polyneuropathy (damage to many nerves, as occurs with diabetes)
    • Stroke

Review Date: 02/05/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (