Gait Dysfunction

Any deviation from a normal walking pattern is considered a gait dysfunction. The cause can be either musculoskeletal or neurological. Most gait dysfunction can be related to a vestibular disorder, central nervous system disorder, neurodegenerative disease, degenerative muscular disease, abnormality of the spine, foot condition, arthritis, or peripheral nerve disease. Some dysfunction may occur temporarily as a result of ingesting a toxin, including alcohol or drugs. Some examples of gait dysfunction include waddling (like a duck), steppage (dropped foot with the toes scraping the ground), spastic (stiff-legged with foot dragging), scissors (legs flexed and knees and thighs hitting or crossing in a scissors-like pattern), and propulsive (hunched posture with rigid head and bent neck). To diagnose a gait dysfunction, a physician or physical therapist will review stance and posture, gait start, speed, and movement continuity. He or she also will watch for any involuntary movements as well as the individual’s ability to stand up from a chair without using the arms, turn, walk on the heels and tip-toes, and squat. The cause of the gait dysfunction will determine the course of treatment. However, physical therapy and assistive devices (such as a cane, brace, or splint) may be beneficial.