How To Move Without Pain

Common causes of limping gait

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

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Limping gait, sometimes referred to as antalgic gait,  is a type of walking pattern that is characterized by an uneven and often painful stride. It can be caused by various conditions, ranging from physical injuries to neurological disorders. Common causes of limping gait include sprains, strains, fractures, joint damage, hip and knee pain, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. Other causes may include infections or medical conditions such as arthritis or cerebral palsy. In some cases, the cause may be unknown. Regardless of the cause, limping gait can have a significant impact on daily activities and quality of life.

Limping that is caused by pain can be an indication of various health conditions, ranging from an acute injury o a more serious medical concern. Pay attention to when the limping occurs as well as any other symptoms that you experience which may help determine its cause.

Causes of Limping

Limping is associated with many diagnoses, though some are more common than others. Some of the most frequent causes of painful walking include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sprains, strains, or soft-tissue injuries
  • Lumbar radiculopathy

Limping due to osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the smooth, slippery coating (called articular cartilage) that lines the endings of bones begins to thin and deteriorate. This can alter the normal movement of a joint and lead to pain.

When the joints around the hips, knees, ankles, or feet are affected, walking can be quite painful and in some cases cause a limp. OA symptoms usually manifest in individuals aged over 50 and become worse after long periods of rest or sitting down.

Sprains and strains are common soft-tissue injuries that can be caused due to sudden trauma or everyday use over a period of time. Sprains affect the ligaments, whereas strains can affect the muscles and their tendons.

Sprains & strains happen when the tissue or muscles involved are either stretched past their limit or partially torn. It’s important to address this type of injury as soon as possible for proper healing. Damage to tissue around the leg, such as a bursa, meniscus, or fat pad, can also cause pain and antalgic gait. This type of injury can be quite painful and result in limping.

Lumbar radiculopathy is a  condition that affects the nerves coming off of your lower spine. It can be caused by disc injuries, bone spurs, or in rare cases, a tumor or growth near the area. The inflammation or compression in this area can cause extreme pain, which in turn may result in a limping gait.

Corresponding Symptoms of Limping

While limping may be the primary issue you’re dealing with, it’s likely that there are other associated problems as well. The types of symptoms vary depending on what is causing your issue. These include:

Osteoarthritis can be painful and cause stiffness, clicking, and occasional swelling in the affected joint. This pain is usually most severe in the morning or after extended periods of activity. Flexible movement and “warming up” can provide some relief for those suffering from OA symptoms.

Soft tissue injuries can cause swelling, pain, and reduced range of motion. Severe injuries may cause swelling that could lead to feelings of instability while walking, or even bruising in the affected area.

Lumbar radiculopathy is usually associated with shooting pain and tingling sensation in the leg. Depending on which nerve is affected, you may also experience some muscle weakness in certain areas of your lower body.  Occasionally, the affected leg also feels like it is going to buckle while you are standing or walking.

Limping can be indicative of a bigger problem within the lower body or back. The most common causes include joint osteoarthritis, lumbar radiculopathy, or any injury to the tendons or ligaments.

To get to the root of your limping, a complete medical checkup from you healthcare provider is essential.  They may recommend tests such as X-rays, MRIs, or EMGs to get a clearer picture. Depending on the results, possible treatments may involve changes in activities and lifestyle, OTC pain relievers, physical therapy – and for extreme cases – surgery.

It is essential to bring up any concerns about your limp with a healthcare provider that you trust. By doing this, you can find the cause of the problem and take steps to improve how you walk. Ignoring the issue may be tempting, but it’s important not to do so.

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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Man limping while walking away