Limping or Difficulty Whilst Walking?

Legs walking

If you are experiencing pain or difficulty when walking, your physiotherapist will want to analyse your walking pattern in order to see if you have any abnormal movements which could be the cause of your complaint.

There are 4 key stages of the normal walking pattern, often referred to as the Human Gait Cycle. These are:

Left Heel strike

Right Toe off

Left Single Limb Stance

Right Heel Strike

The movements of each leg during the cycle can be grouped into two phases: stance phase and swing phase. Stance phase is when the foot has contact on the floor and is supporting your weight.  Swing phase is when the foot is off the floor and is being swung forward whilst taking a step.

If you have an injured part of your body, for example your ankle, the body’s natural reaction is to protect the area from further damage, and to limit the pain from that particular injury. This is why humans and animals instinctively limp or present with an antalgic gait.  If this presentation is exaggerated or long-standing, other joints can become affected or damaged because of altered biomechanics when compensating in order to prevent pain. This is why your physiotherapist will examine the whole aspect of your walking pattern, even if it is just a single joint which is problematic.

It is not only injuries that can cause abnormal gait patterns. Neurological diseases or impaired nerve stimulation to specific muscles can cause significant problems.  Two of the most common gait abnormalities due to neurological deficits are drop foot and Trendelenburg gait. Drop foot is when you have difficulties dorsiflexing (bending back) your ankle, meaning that the heel strike is impaired.  This causes an individual to shuffle their feet or drag their toes whilst stepping. Trendelenburg gait is where the gluteal muscles are impaired and unable to stabilise the pelvis (hips) during stance phase. During walking, a positive Trendelenburg sign is shown if the right leg is elevated and the pelvis drops on the left side.

Your physiotherapist can work with you to improve your gait pattern, or identify problems, which may be responsible for any aches, or pains.  Our physiotherapists are specialists in gait rehabilitation so feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below if you have any concerns.