What is Gait?

Gait refers to the way in which a person walks.

An abnormal gait is an irregular pattern of walking. As your child grows and develops, it is important to be aware of possible abnormalities in their posture and steps.

The sooner an abnormality is identified, the easier it is to correct the problem with therapy.

What are the Causes of Gait Abnormalities?

While minor injuries can affect how a person walks, other, more serious, diseases may be the cause of abnormal gait. The most common causes of abnormal gait include:

  • Arthritis
  • Birth defects
  • Bone fractures
  • Infections that damage tissues in the legs
  • Psychological disorders, including conversion disorder
  • Inner ear infections
  • Nervous system disorders, such as cerebral palsy or stroke

What are the Types of Gait Abnormalities?

Irregular walking patterns can come in many different forms. The most common gait abnormalities in children include:


This type of gait is the result of pain. The child may not put weight on the affected area, but may also not complain of pain.


Involves swinging the leg with each step. Could be the result of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), leg length discrepancy, or even cerebral palsy.


A child with spastic gait drags their feet inward while they walk. Feet are stiff, and this is usually the result of an upper motor neurone neurological disease like cerebral palsy or stroke.


When a child has difficulty maintaining stability when moving from a narrow-to-wide base, it is characterized as ataxic gait.


This form of gait is the result of a weak hip abductor muscle or pain. When walking, the pelvis drops on the contralateral side, rather than rising as is normal walking patterns.


While toe walking is normal up to age three, persistent toe walking is observed in spastic upper motor neurone neurological disease, like cerebral palsy.


With this kind of gait, the entire leg is lifted at the hip to step up or over. This may be the result of weak ankle dorsiflexors, compensated by increased knee flexion and is often seen in lower motor neurone neurological disease, like spina bifida.


This gait is characterized by frequent falls and difficulty in self-help tasks such as getting dressed. This is usually the result of delayed motor development known as dyspraxia.

What are the Treatment Options for Gait Abnormalities?

To identify which gait abnormality is present, a gait analysis must be performed. During the analysis, a therapist will monitor and observe walking, running and moving patterns in the patient to determine where they may be compensating and to develop a plan for correcting the issue.

For many, a walking abnormality will go away when the underlying cause is treated. Physical therapy is the most common form of treatment for walking disorders. Therapy allows a patient to strengthen weak muscles and correct their walking patterns.

Other patients may benefit from assistive devices, such as crutches, leg braces, a walker, or a cane.

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