I spend a lot of time watching people walk – and while no two people walk exactly the same way, most walk symmetrically on both legs. When I see someone limping, it can mean several things as there are several causes to consider. The limp is a way for your body to compensate for something that is wrong mechanically. Understanding why can help you improve. Let’s look at several of the reasons why this happens.
First are structural problems. Alignment of your legs is important in determining how you will walk. There is a wide range of normal, but the some people appear knock-kneed or bow-legged. This can lead to early wear and tear on the knee like a tire out of balance. The ankles and hips also come into play. Which came first is a key question: The alignment problem or the arthritis? I can help you understand the answer in my office, and we can talk more about this in a later post update.
Second are neurological issues causing muscle imbalances. One muscle may be tighter than another, or stronger than another. As humans, we are extremely good at compensating for deficiencies. Neurologic issues usually don’t require surgery but rather good physical therapy. This too comes in many different forms. Not all are amenable to treatment.
Next, stiffness of your joints can be a factor – do you stretch regularly? While not a big deal in your 20’s and maybe your 30’s, this becomes more important into the 40s and beyond. Be sure you spend 5-10 minutes stretching after you wake up in the morning, or before any physical exercise or sport.
Another the tough one to see is changes that happened because of surgery. Many times its a matter of doing the right rehab to get muscles strong, but some surgeries, like hip replacements, can be complicated by leg length changes that cause a person to limp.
Finally, I see a lot of patients with arthritic knees. Arthritis can cause damage to the joint over time and cause a leg to become bowed or knock-kneed with deformity and cause you to limp. A lot of people limp with bad knees. Its rather simple to watch someone walk away from you and know they have a serious knee problem. This limp can usually be treated and you can walk normally again. It may take surgery to get there. Please ask me if this is right for you. Send me your x-rays and I can give you better guidance, and as always, it is best to see me in the office to determine what is the best choice.
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4 Ways to know if you will develop osteoarthritis
Once these patterns are a part of you, it can be hard to ‘un-learn’ the habit. Part of a well-performed hip or knee replacement is a surgical correction of these alignment issues when possible. Patients often ask how long will this take to go away. It can take up to a year of working hard at it to rebalance your walking pattern.
To the surprise of many, the limp doesn’t just go away. It takes time – and practice – to learn to walk again. You have to usually work hard. Walking down a hallway toward a mirror can help show you what you are doing help you correct it. Good physical therapy is important. Be persistent !
This is a really complicated topic. Keep asking me your questions below, or check out my other blog posts about similar issues. I really look forward to your comments and ideas. Keep your body in motion !
My leg is shorter than the other. I wear special shoes. Two years ago I had a tough hip surgery which was hard to recover from. My muscles are really weak and I limp when I walk. Are there any special exercises I can do to strengthen my muscles and what should I do in order to learn to stop limping?
There are many exercises that might help stengthening your legs, your core, and improve your ability to walk. It sounds like you certainly have a special situation. While I cannot give sound medical advice here, I would absolutely suggest seeing a really good physical therapist to provide you with an entire exercise program and help guide you through the process to reach your maximal potential ! Best wishes !
I have a hip replacement on the right side and hip resurfacing on the left as the hip resurfacing on the right side failed.Due to the replacement surgery on the right my right leg is about 1cm longer than the left leg.I have orthotics in my shoes to balance that ,but I feel that I still put more pressure on the left side when walking which makes the left him strain more and it gets sore.I feel if I am not concentrating I have a small limp which I do not think I should have with the orthotics.Would you have any advice how I can walk better so the left hip does not get sore.I do a lot of stretching ,biking and walking,Yoga Also.Thanks for your help
Hello my name is Tracey. I had a scope done and come to find out i had septic under my knee cap. I’m going to thearpy now but still have a little limp and still tender. Will the limp finally go away and can i add heat to my knee?
Hi Tracey. Sorry to hear of your troubles. It sounds like you are describing treatment for an infection in your knee. These can be very serious. I imagine your surgeon cleaned out the joint with a lot of fluid, and then treated you with antibiotics. The pain associated with infection and surgery can go on for a while, and it may take several months to see improvement. As you know, I cannot really give you medical advice here, but I would strongly suggest you ask the same questions to your surgeon and see what the expected outcome will be based on what as seen in your knee, and how long it will take to get better ! Keep us posted here.
I threw my back out I’ve been limping for about three weeks my leg was really sore and then I had the really excruciating nerve pain now I’m trying to walk again without a limp it’s very hard and my leg is getting a lot stronger but I’m still limping
I had 6 surgeries for a total right hip replacement the botched surgery requiring 5 more surgeries due to the hip continuing to dislocate after surgery. The ball kept coming out so they inserted a large one & my leg was 2 inches longer than unaffected leg which made my life miserable to say the least. It’s my feeling I didn’t even need the surgery but I complained of knee pain after a total knee replacement & surgeon said it was from my hip which never hurt but he said was osreoporotic & was causing the pain. I trusted him instead of my gut & ended up with little life as I can hardly get around. I had a revision done by another surgeon 2 years ago & he told me I wld walk 80% normally in about a year, but that never happened. He did somewhat make my legs symmetrical, but I continue to hav this profound limp along with back pain. Do you hav any suggestions & what I need to do to decrease this limp which wld afford me a better life & less pain in general. Any suggestions I would appreciate.
Wow – that’s a lot to swallow – sorry to hear of all your struggles. Sounds like a very complex problem at this point. While I cannot truly give you and sound medical advice over the internet, I would strongly suggest seeing someone, likely at a University, who has seen these kinds of problems, and specializes in complex hip revision surgery. Please let me know what you find out. All the best, SH.
I had a left femur fracture on 2nd july 2017, its been 4 months now. I had orif surgery for the same with Rod inserted in my left femur. My left knee bends backwads. I am limping towards left side when i walk. Will it go with time? What special exercises are required to eliminate limping?
Hi – Having surgery for a broken leg is a big deal. Most femur fractures heal quite well, and some people will notice slight changes in leg length or rotation of the bone. It is common to have other injuries at the same time that may go unnoticed like knee injuries and ligament injuries. Four months out after surgery is usually not enough time to completely recover and everyone is different. Issues with your knee should definitely be discussed with your surgeon. You may need to see a knee specialist. Continuing to work on strength, flexibility and endurance is really important right now. You likely still have a ways to go. Best wishes.
Dr. Scott Hacker
San Diego, California
Over the last year I’ve had a standing job….for 33 years more or less a sit down job!! big change!! I have developed a limp, but its painful, and the knife like stabbing feeling makes me stop in my tracks and say OUCH. I get stabbing feeling in my buttocks, bubbly feelings in my leg muscles and what I call nervy twitches in my feet and knees….shoot me!! One night I felt a stabbing feeling in my leg muscle that made me go hot and cold and start to shake, I can still feel where this was in my leg. Im on Naproxafen for inflammation, was on co-cordamol but it had no effect, so got put on Zapain…bit of a better result but not great, then on nerve blocking tablets to take at night Im on my 2nd week doctor said they wouldn’t take effect for 3 weeks, however I’m sleeping better as I have less discomfort and pain in bed….so they are starting to help……it was thought to be arthritis but blood tests say no arthritis or and no rheumatism…..I’m 55, healthy 5 feet 71/2 and about 155lbs….what is making me limp, walk with my legs apart and generally look stiff??????I have an appt with a consultant in 3 weeks time, and appt with physio in 5 weeks time, but I want it to go away so badly, what can I do to help cure it, or at least ease it so I can work, Ive been signed off for 5 weeks to relax!!!!!
I have had two knee replacements on same knee and find myself in agony I am on every tablet possible and just want to try even half this limp,any ideas,thank u kindly
Hi. It’s been three weeks since I discovered through MRI that there is a tear in the posterior horn of medial meniscus.
I am undergoing Physiotherapy treatment that includes ….a) ultrasound treatment
c) Hot fomentation
d) exercises to strengthen hamstrings
quadriceps and calf muscles.
The pain is almost gone, unless I stand or walk for too long. BUT, I’m still limping .
1)Will my walk become normal again?
2)How long will it take?
3) Do I require surgery?
4) Should I wear a knee cap while walking?
I was reading on bet that the meniscus is difficult to heal because it has no blood supply.
How do you assess my situation?
Your are correct that a meniscus, depending on the location of the tear, often does not heal. It sounds like you are much better but still struggling with the limp. The question is why do you limp ? If you walk normally, would you have pain? I would ask your therapist for advice on this. It may be that surgery will still be needed for the tear to get rid of the limp. To me, this is a good discussion with your orthopedic surgeon. It may be mroe than the tear causing the altered gait. If surgery is done, typically patients improve over the next 6-8 weeks. A brace may give you more security with walking but does not directly any problems coming from the tear.
Hi! Very interesting article. My name is Alyssa. I was born with Spina Bifida (lipomyelomeningocele) and I have been limping all my life. I’m now 20 years old, turning 21 in a little over a week. This past year or two I’ve noticed my limp has gotten more profound. It’s uncomfortable and painful. I cant walk around a mall, college campus, or even just exercise without having to take a break. In short, it sucks. I wear an AFO on my right foot/ankle (have worn it all my life). I believe my legs are the same length but I have a hip deficiency. Do you know of any surgery or physical therapy or anything that can help?
Spina bifida is a special condition involving complications with the development of the spinal cord and spinal column. It is a challenge for any orthopedic surgeon. This is really hard to advise because of the complexity of the condition. I would suggest seeing a specialist in this condition – maybe 2 – to get a few ideas to help you. I wish you all the best, knowing it has likely been a hard road to this point, and there will likely be challenges that still lie ahead. I might hope that a physical therapist will have good ideas for you to try and avoid surgery if possible. I will often recommend different PTs based on the condition to treat. This definitely takes a specialist in this type of condition. Best wishes.
Hello! I’ve read your article while doing some research to see if I could get rid of my limp and I found it quite intriguing. I’ve had two surgeries on my right femur (the most recent is for a fracture, the other for misplacement of the head of my femur). (Oh, and I also have Fibrous Dysplasia). I would like to know, although I have Fibrous Dysplasia, my legs are now even. Is there a way I could get rid of my limp? I am 23 years old and I feel uncomfortable by the stares I often get and the questions. May you please give me some advice? Do you think therapy would be beneficial?
Sorry to hear of your limping struggles – Limping is usually the result of some mechanical imbalance between your legs and core (although there are so many causes). If one leg is longer than the other, for example, its going to be really hard not to limp – One leg is just longer. And with fibrous dysplasia, there can be a lot of challenges with bones. Some differences can be compensated with shoe changes/modification. I always think physical therapy can be a huge help. If its not truly correctable, you may just have ‘own it’ and accept your body as it is and what it will allow you to do safely – This year has shown all of us the importance of learning to accept others as they are and appreciate the best in each of us. Happy holidays and best wishes for a healthy year in 2021 !
Hi Nicole I have sciatic nerve pain in my right hip, and the back of my right leg all the way down to foot and it is swollen.
I had a cartilage problem in my right knee – so I started to limp because it was painful – that was a year ago. My right knee also became painful – so I wasn’t limping on my right leg but then with both hurting I started to limp depending on whichever knee was hurting more. I only have pain now in the morning when I wake up and not much and not at all through the day but I’ve been limping for so long I can no longer walk normally. I try watching other people walk in the street to copy them. I listen to uplifting music to walk with confidence. I watch myself in the full-length mirror in my apartment but nothing seems to undo this newly learnt brain memory. I walked for 50 years completely normally and now in less than a year it’s like I’ve forgotten altogether. I can manage for about 5 minutes then my legs feel rigid/tight and I go back to limping when I don’t need to. I don’t want this to be the rest of my life.Your advice would be invaluable.
Hi my name is Ebony and I been having a limp for a while now. It first started with my knee when I got hit with bat when I was younger and then it went to my hip. I do have to wear lifters but I still have a limp with them on. But I was wondering if you had any suggestions that you could give me about that can help me out.
I am a 50 year old woman. I have been walking my dogs three miles a day for about a month and started to get lower back pain. I the. Would notice about at half a mile, I would begin to limp! When I sit down, the limping will get better and will not limp!
I am a 50 year old female. I walk two dog three miles a day. I started to have lower back pain and will begin to limp after walking about half a mile! What could cause this?
Hi I was told by a lot of people lately that they saw me limping. I never noticed that. I always have issues with my right leg, which sometimes I feel like my right foot drags when I walk so easily to get bumped into chairs or tables. I see my shoes bottoms are unequal. I assume because the way I walk caused shoes damage especially at the heel ( inner) both shoes more on right. Lately i have noticed my right groin area joint movement is a little off but not pain.
Please advise what to do.
Hello, this article was very informative and motivating, thank you. I am19 years old. I was a preterm born baby, my right side of the body is weaker than my left side. I walk with a limp, as you said I think it is because of the weakness. My right arm is not as functional as my left arm, which is why I do most of my tasks with my left arm. Is it fixable? I want to be a doctor, and I know I can’t do that with these limitations. What would you recommend?
I had an injury on 28 June doing a furward bend in yoga the hamstring felt to unwind. The knee felt unstable. I then went fur a walk to stretch it. And came home limping and in a lot of pain and the lower leg was then also sore.
I had an mri and the knee structure is fine. So all the issues appear to be muscular. Weak hamstrings and glutes, and calf strain.
5 months later I am finally learning to walk again but I’m unsteady. I’m having physio and doing squats and bridges and heel raises.
I’m wondering if I just need to continue practising walking. Or if I should see a podiatrist and get my gait analysed. I just want to get back to normal.
Hello. I sprained my ankle about 2 weeks ago pretty badly and was given a boot to wear to help my ankle heal. Although still a bit painful, I am able to walk which is good. however, I have developed a limp that just won’t go away. After my ankle heels can I expect the limp to also go away? I don’t know what I can do to help relearn how to properly walk again.
I had meniscus surgery 10 months ago. Friends told me this morning that I better take care of my knee. They both said I was walking bull legged and my ankle was even turning . I had heard of this but had no idea it was that noticeable . I try to work the inside and outside of my leg , but maybe not enough . I play tennis. I am still recovering as I can run to my left ( surgical leg) but can’t break down and hustle back to my right . I find myself just giving up on that point. Is it too late for me to correct this though exorcise, or is it just part of the healing process and will get better. This is my second tear on this leg . I totally recovered the first time without surgery . It did take about a year and a half of struggle . Both tears were from direct hard impact , not wear and tear or anything else . Please help
Ive had a stroke back in 2019 but it left with a limp and drop foot what is the best treatment for this?
I have had 2 labral tear surgeries. I still don’t walk right even though I’ve been keeping up with my PT. One doc says learn to balance without holding on on the weak leg. I can’t even do it on my uninjured leg! Other doc says it’s the IT band and use a roller. I’m doing it all. MRIs and x-rays show nothing and I got PRP last week as well as acupuncture. I have less pain but I’m still limping quite a lot. What exercises do you recommend?
Hi I am Aditi. I had acl reconstruction almost 8 months ago but the limo is still there. It feels tired after walking and trying to walk on my heels seems difficult and painful. Please suggest few exercises for the limp to go away.
I had right hip replacement surgery in July2019. I didn’t do my therapy as I should have but I finally did and have gone two different times for a 3-6 month period. I am still doing therapy. My question is why do I still limp?
Limping after hip replacement surgery can be causes by many things. Muscle weakness, muscle injury, neurological problems and more. Talk to your surgeon about it. Between you, your physical therapist and surgeon, you should be able to make a good plan to understand the problem and come up with a plan to help resolve it.
Hi, I have sickle cell anemia and was recently diagnosed with avascular necrosis. My left leg is longer than the right, I limb and I can no longer stand up straight and I’m always in pain. Do you think I’ll ever walk normal again?
Sickle cell anemia can often lead to avascular necrosis. This is a special condition when part of a bone can actually die off and not work right. Depending on where the problem is surgery is sometimes needed to correct deformities and repair joints. Definitely this is something to see your orthopedic surgeon about and discuss options. All the best.
I have a limp on my left leg and it’s affecting my walking for the past 5years and i went to see a therapist but didn’t see positive result. Dr what should I do
About a year ago I started having knee/ hip issues don’t know why, maybe age, I went to the doctor and did X-rays they said normal wear and tear nothing special but now I walk with a limp, and still have pain/every day. I walk from side to side, don’t know how to fix it.
Sounds like time to talk more to your doctor about what that means ‘wear and tear’. I see people with a lot of wear and tear in one knee, and not the other. Its hard to say ‘its just because you are getting older’. I think you need a better explanation of that. Once that’s explained, you can talk to your doctor more about next treatment steps. there are so many possible treatments. All the best.