Walking is one of those common, everyday activities that most of us tend to take for granted. But if we’re in pain, the way we walk can suddenly change, primarily in an attempt to avoid making our pain worse. The way we walk when we’re in pain is called an antalgic gait, and unless it’s treated and corrected, it can cause some problems of its own.
At Texas Orthopaedic Associates, our team offers treatment for a wide variety of gait abnormalities, including antalgic gait. Here’s why antalgic gait happens, what problems it can cause, and how we can help treat it.
Quick facts about antalgic gait
An antalgic gait is simply an altered way of walking that happens because you’re experiencing pain. For instance, if you have pain in a knee or a foot, you might place less weight on that leg in order to lessen the pain, resulting in a noticeable limp.
Lots of issues can cause an antalgic gait. Some of the most common include:
- Tendon or ligament injuries
- Muscle strains
- Low back issues, like sciatica
- Foot problems, like bunions or neuromas
You might develop an antalgic gait after a traumatic injury, like a car accident or a fall, or from degenerative or overuse issues. Infections, inflammation, and other medical problems like vascular disease or tumors can also cause an antalgic gait.
Changing your walking pattern for a brief period of time may temporarily relieve your pain, and it might even help reduce inflammation by giving the injured site more support for healing. But if you alter your walking pattern for too long, it can lead to some pretty uncomfortable and serious complications.
The problem with an antalgic gait
Walking seems like a simple, straightforward activity, but it’s actually a complex process involving muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and other body components. When you alter the way you walk, you alter that system, as well.
Over time, even a seemingly minor change in gait can lead to more severe issues, like strained muscles, nerve irritation, back pain, knee and hip pain, foot problems, and an exacerbation of underlying issues, like arthritis. Eventually, these changes can hamper your mobility even more, resulting in reduced range of motion and permanent disability.
Treating antalgic gait
Because an antalgic gait can have so many causes, the first step in treatment is determining why you’re limping. In addition to a thorough exam and a review of past injuries and lifestyle habits, our team typically recommends tests, like diagnostic imaging or lab tests, to understand the cause of your gait change.
Next, we design a treatment plan that’s focused on managing that underlying cause while also restoring your normal gait.
Your plan might include:
- Rest and elevation
- Ice or heat
- Physical therapy
- Braces or splints
- Walking devices
In some cases, we may recommend surgery to address an underlying issue, like severe knee arthritis or a torn tendon.
A “little limp” might not seem like a big deal, but over time, it can cause some major problems. Treating an antalgic gait promptly helps relieve pain, restore normal walking patterns, and prevent more serious issues in the future.