Common Gait Deviations and How to Spot Them

The human walk or gait can compare to a fingerprint. Each person has their own unique and individualized walk! In fact, you might even be able to notice someone by their walk!

Walking is a rhythmic, repetitive motion created at our ankles, knees, hip, trunk, and arms. However, issues can arise anywhere along the chain that impact gait. For examples, issues with range of motion, muscle weakness or sensory loss all contribute to a different walking pattern. Let’s talk about some common gait deviations and why they occur.

Hip Hike

A hip hike occurs when one limb is too long for some reason. The person walking has a hard time clearing the lengthened limb. Thus, they have to “hike” up their hip to get the toe to clear. The hike occurs when the walker is standing on the normal limb and the lengthened limb is in the air. Almost anything that can lengthen a limb can cause a hip hike.

Some common examples are:

  • Issues bending the knee
  • Decreased range of motion in the ankle

Circumduction

Additionally, circumduction can also occur when a limb is too long. The person walking is not able to clear the lengthened limb. However, this gait pattern swings the leg instead of hiking up the hip. The leg is swung out in a semicircle instead of bending it. In contrast to hip hiking, the pelvis of this person stays level throughout the movement. Circumduction can be caused by the same impairments that cause hip hiking.

Trendelenburg

According to Gandbhir et al. Trendelenburg was a German surgeon who first noticed this gait pattern in 1895. A Trendelenburg gait is characterized by a hip drop on the leg swinging in the air. This pattern is similar to hip hiking, but the hip moves down instead of up. The hip drop of the leg swinging drops down because of weakness on the stance leg. Thus, stance leg is not able to control the pelvis, which causes it to fall downward due to gravity.

Someone with Trendelenburg gait can use their trunk to compensate for the hip drop. The trunk will move over the stance leg to prevent the hip from dropping. A compensated Trendenburg will have a level pelvis, but a trunk lean will occur each time the walker steps onto the stance leg on that impaired side.

Foot Drop/Foot Slap

Foot slap and foot drop are both abnormalities that occur at the ankle. Foot drop is characterized by the toe touching the ground before the heel. This deviation is due to significant weakness in the ankle. You may even hear a slight slap as the heel hits onto the ground. In contrast, foot slap occurs when the heel makes contact with the floor, but there isn’t enough strength to hold up the toes. The toes than slap on the ground and make an audible noise.

Contact us!

Walking is great exercise and can lead to a longer life! If you feel you have a gait deviation and want to seek physical therapy, don’t hesitate to call! New Jersey has direct access that can get you in for evaluation without you having to see a doctor. In short, calling us directly can end up saving you both time and money!

Please, call us to schedule your evaluation at one of BeneFIT’s locations, Bridgewater (908.203.5200) or Chester (908.879.5700)  with one of our highly trained Doctors of Physical Therapy!

Sources:

Gandbhir, V., Lam J., & Rayi A. (2021). Trendelenburg Gait. StatPearls.