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What Causes Gait Abnormality? 22 Possible Conditions

What are gait and balance problems?

Gait, the process of walking, and balance are intricate movements. They rely on proper functioning from several areas of the body, including the:

  • ears
  • eyes
  • brain
  • muscles
  • sensory nerves

Problems with any of these areas can lead to walking difficulties, falls, or injury if not addressed. Walking difficulties can be temporary or long-term, depending on the cause.

Symptoms of gait and balance problems

The most common symptoms of gait and balance problems include:

  • difficulty walking
  • trouble with balance
  • unsteadiness

People can experience:

  • dizziness
  • light-headedness
  • vertigo
  • motion sickness
  • double vision

Other symptoms may occur depending on the underlying cause or condition.

What causes gait and balance problems?

Potential causes of temporary gait or balance complications include:

  • injury
  • trauma
  • inflammation
  • pain

Longer-term difficulties often result from muscular neurological issues.

Problems with gait, balance, and coordination are often caused by specific conditions, including:

  • joint pain or conditions, such as arthritis
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Meniere's disease
  • brain hemorrhage
  • brain tumor
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Arnold-Chiari malformation
  • spinal cord compression or infarction
  • Guillain Barre
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • myopathy
  • cerebral palsy
  • gout
  • muscular dystrophy
  • obesity
  • chronic alcohol abuse
  • vitamin B12 deficiency
  • stroke
  • vertigo
  • migraines
  • deformities
  • certain medications, including antihypertensive drugs

Other causes include limited range of motion and fatigue. Muscle weakness can occur in one or both legs making walking difficult. Foot and leg numbness can make it difficult to know where your feet are moving or whether they are touching the floor.

Diagnosing gait and balance problems

A physical and neurological examination can diagnose gait or balance problems. Your doctor will also ask questions about your symptoms and their severities.

Performance testing can then be used to assess individual gait difficulties. Further potential tests to identify causes include:

  • hearing tests
  • inner ear tests
  • vision tests, including watching eye movement

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan can check your brain and spinal cord. Your doctor will look to find which part of the nervous system is contributing to your gait and balance problems.  A nerve conduction study and electromyogram can be used to evaluate for muscle problems and peripheral neuropathy.  You doctor may also order blood tests to evaluate for causes of balance problems.

Treating gait and balance problems

Treatment for gait and balance issues depends on the cause. Treatments may include medications and physical therapy. You may require rehabilitation to learn to move muscles, to compensate for a lack of balance, and learn how to prevent falls. For vertigo-caused balance issues, you may learn how to position your head to regain balance.


The prognosis of gait and balance problems is dependent on your underlying medical condition.

For older adults, in particular, gait and balance problems can cause you to fall. This can lead to injury, loss of independence, and a change in lifestyle. In some cases, falls can be fatal.

Be sure to see your doctor to get a thorough examination in order to identify why you’re having gait and balance difficulties. There are a wide variety of treatments for all issues.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Medically reviewed on: Oct 31, 2016: Graham Rogers, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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