A gait disorder is a movement disorder that is caused either by problems with the musculoskeletal system or by neurological disorders. Typical examples of orthopedic gait disorders are limping due to severe pain or joint stiffness or hip joint disorders. Neurological disorders associated with a gait disorder are, for example, paralysis after a stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or diseases of the cerebellum.
How is the symptom expressed?
Gait disorders lead to difficulty walking and increase the risk of falling. In old age in particular, additional factors such as balance disorders, dizziness or vision problems increase the risk of falls and injuries. Gait disorders often lead to dependency, fear of falling and social withdrawal in old people and mean a massive reduction in quality of life.
Gait disorders manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Some gait disorders even have an appropriate name due to their characteristic appearance:
Limping or sluggish careful walking, injuries or inflammatory joint diseases
Dragging a leg, with hip joint diseases or Parkinson’s disease
Staggering gait, with side effects of medication or under the influence of alcohol
Shuffling gait, in dementia
Wide-legged gait, with gait insecurity
Breaks when walking, in case of claudication (circulatory disorders in the legs)
Unsteady gait with a tendency to fall, with visual impairment
Stepper or stork walk, with nerve damage in the feet: the foot hangs down when walking, the leg has to be lifted more to avoid stumbling
Tripple steps, in Parkinson’s: walk in small steps with the upper body bent forward, the arms do not swing
Scissor walk, for mental illnesses: crossing the legs when walking
Wernicke-Mann gait, in hemiplegia after a stroke: the paralyzed leg is swung forward in a semicircle, at the same time the paralyzed arm is bent and pressed against the upper body.
Duchenne limping or Trendelenburg gait: waddling gait in hip joint diseases
The most common causes of gait disorders are diseases or injuries to the bones, joints or muscles of the legs or spine (orthopaedic causes) or as a result of damaged nerves (neurological causes). Gait disturbances can also be triggered by medication or occur as part of internal diseases (e.g. circulatory disorders in the legs). Gait disturbances occur less frequently in mental illnesses.