What is a gait disorder?

Gait is a person’s pattern of walking. Walking involves balance and coordination of muscles so that the body is propelled forward in a rhythm, called the stride. There are numerous possibilities that may cause an abnormal gait. Some common causes are:

  • A degenerative disease (such as arthritis)
  • An inner ear disorder
  • Stroke
  • Foot conditions
  • A neurologic condition
  • Something as simple as ill-fitting shoes

What are some types of gait disorders?

The following gait disorders are so distinctive as to earn names:

  • Propulsive gait. This type of gait is seen in patients with parkinsonism. It is characterized by a stooping, rigid posture, and the head and neck are bent forward. Steps tend to become faster and shorter.
  • Scissors gait. This type of gait gets its name because the knees and thighs hit or cross in a scissors-like pattern when walking. The legs, hips, and pelvis become flexed, making the person appear as though he or she is crouching. The steps are slow and small. This type of gait occurs often in patients with spastic cerebral palsy.
  • Spastic gait. Common to patients with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, spastic gait is a way of walking in which one leg is stiff and drags in a semicircular motion on the side most affected by long-term muscle contraction.
  • Steppage gait. A “high stepping” type of gait in which the leg is lifted high, the foot drops (appearing floppy), and the toes points downward, scraping the ground, when walking. Peroneal muscle atrophy or peroneal nerve injury, as with a spinal problem (such as spinal stenosis or herniated disc), can cause this type of gait.
  • Waddling gait. Movement of the trunk is exaggerated to produce a waddling, duck-like walk. Progressive muscular dystrophy or hip dislocation present from birth can produce a waddling gait.

Who is at risk for a gait disorder?

The chance of a gait disorder increases with age, as older people tend to experience more conditions that cause an abnormal gait and typically have weaker muscles, delayed reaction and less muscle coordination than younger people.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/19/2019.


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