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A number of conditions and diseases can lead to gait problems. Common gait problems include walking with the toes pointed inward, limping, and waddling. An abnormal gait can occur in childhood, when a person is just learning to walk, or much later in life. Diseases and conditions that commonly cause gait problems include Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and stroke. The problems may also arise after a person is injured or if he or she is on certain medicines.
A waddling, or myopathic, gait is one of a number of common gait problems. The gait can be caused by muscle dystrophy or atrophy of the spine. In some cases it is caused by a congenital dislocation of the hip. It occurs because a person cannot balance his pelvis while walking, which causes it to tilt toward the leg that is in the air. A waddling gait can appear in childhood or develop in adulthood.
Propulsive gait, also known as Parkinsonian gait, causes a person to walk slightly stooped over. The head and the neck are bent forward in a propulsive gait. If the gait problem is caused by Parkinson's disease, a person's arms will not swing by her sides as she walks. Propulsive gait problems can also be caused by carbon monoxide, manganese, and certain drug poisoning.
Multiple sclerosis can cause a number of gait problems as well, such as a spastic gait or a steppage gait. If a person has a spastic gait, his muscles are usually contracted, which causes his walk to be stiff. He may drag one leg. If he has a steppage gait, his toes drag across the ground because the foot points down.
An ataxic, or unbalanced, gait can also result from multiple sclerosis. Someone with an ataxic gait may need a walker or other assistance to get around more easily. Ataxia can also be caused by drinking too much alcohol, a stroke, or certain medications.
Intoeing and outtoeing are common gait problems among young children. Most children outgrow the problem without assistance. The abnormal gait will make a child more prone to trips and falls but will not cause permanent damage or pain. An toe inward or outward walk can be caused by a number of conditions, such as bowlegs, flat feet, or knock knees.
If a gait problem is caused by an injury, it will usually improve as the injury heals. Gait problems in children tend to go away as the child grows. In some cases, physical therapy may be needed if the abnormal gait is a result of a chronic illness.