Walking difficulties rank high on the list of disabilities that affect the American people. In fact, one study found that 17.1 million adults (7 percent of the adult population) were unable or found it very difficult to walk just one-quarter of a mile.
If you’re experiencing walking difficulties and aren’t sure why, keep reading. Listed below are some of the most common causes of walking difficulties, as well as information on what you can do to treat them and stop them from getting worse.
Symptoms Associated with Walking Difficulties
Some people know without a doubt that they experience walking difficulties. Many others, though, are unaware that their gait is not ideal. If you think you have walking difficulties but aren’t totally sure, consider whether or not you’ve been presenting any of these symptoms:
- Propulsive gait: Your posture is slouched and rigid with your neck pushed forward
- Scissors gait: Your knees cross and hit into each other in a scissor-like way because your legs bend inward
- Spastic gait: You walk stiffly and drag your feet
- Steppage gait: Your toes scrap the ground because they’re pointing downward
- Waddling gait: You waddle side to side while you walking instead of remaining totally upright
When you’re used to walking a certain way, it can be hard to know whether or not there’s anything abnormal about your gait. Some other signs that you have an abnormal gait and are experiencing walking difficulties include:
- Pain in your lower extremities
- Pain in your lower back
- Numbness or tingling in your extremities
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle stiffness
- Poor balance
Reasons You May be Experiencing Walking Difficulties
What causes walking difficulties and gait abnormalities? Some of the most common reasons people end up experiencing walking difficulties include:
Nervous System Disorders
Nervous system disorders frequently affect one’s ability to walk normally. Nervous system disorders can affect either the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or peripheral nervous system (nerves that branch off from the brain and spinal cord).
Common neurologic disorders that affect the gait include multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Many infections can also affect the peripheral nervous system and contribute to gait issues.
Issues with the muscles and bones can also cause walking difficulties. If the bones are out of alignment, or if a person lacks flexibility and strength in their muscles, it’s easy to experience imbalances and pain that make walking normally difficult.
People who suffer from destructive musculoskeletal disorders like muscular dystrophy also frequently experience walking difficulties.
Inflammatory diseases like arthritis and autoimmune disorders are also known to cause pain and stiffness in the joints and muscles that can affect the way one walks. Some autoimmune conditions that are known to cause walking difficulties include lupus, gout, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Your walking difficulties may also be associated with an injury. It’s fairly easy to trace pain or gait abnormalities back to traumatic injuries like a car accident or serious fall. However, many people suffer from overuse injuries and don’t even realize it.
Overuse injuries are caused by performing the same motion over and over again. This frequent use leads to inflammation and pain, and many people end up changing the way they walk or move to compensate for their discomfort.
How to Treat Walking Difficulties
If you’re experiencing walking difficulties, it’s important to meet with your doctor to find out what specific condition is causing them. Once you’ve nailed down the cause, your doctor will likely recommend one of the following treatment options:
Working with a physical therapist can help you learn to move normally again. A physical therapist will also teach you exercises to restore strength, correct imbalances, and prevent future difficulties.
To help relieve pain and improve your ability to move around, your doctor may recommend that you use mobility aids, such as canes or lightweight rolling walkers. Some people only need to use these devices temporarily, while others will rely on them for the rest of their lives.
If the cause of your walking difficulties is related to inflammation, your doctor may prescribe medication that helps combat the inflammatory processes in your body.
Finally, keep in mind that being overweight or obese can exacerbate many disorders that contribute to your walking difficulties. Losing weight can help you regain control over your limbs and improve the way you move without the need for more invasive measures.