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How Arthritis Can Change Your Gait

How Arthritis Can Change Your Gait

When someone talks about arthritis, the conversation usually revolves around pain, stiffness, and swelling. But those aren't the only complications of arthritis. 

One of the lesser-known symptoms of this common joint problem is its negative impact on the way you walk, also known as your gait. The longer you walk with an improper gait, the more likely you are to strain other areas of your body. 

You can stop the progression of pain with help from Maurice Aiken, DPM, and our team here at Bay Breeze Foot & Ankle Specialists in Dunedin, Florida. Here, we explore how arthritis can change your gait and what you can do to avoid or reverse those potentially harmful mechanical issues.

Arthritis and your gait

When you have a blister or a tender spot on your heel, you tend to tweak the way you move. If you'd do that for a blister, how much more would you do when you have foot arthritis?

Arthritis, especially in its later stages, can be excruciating. And when it plagues your feet, it almost inevitably changes the way you walk. Here's how.

Altered stride length

When you have arthritis, you may shorten your stride and take smaller steps to avoid putting too much pressure on your affected joints. This change in stride length makes your gait appear choppy or uneven.

Changes in joint motion

One of the other consequences of swollen, arthritic joints is a limited range of motion, which can impact the fluidity of your gait. You may find it difficult to fully bend or extend your knees, hips, or ankles while walking, and this restricted motion stiffens your gait and makes you walk awkwardly.

Uneven weight distribution 

Arthritis pain and the accompanying joint weakness can cause you to shift your weight to other body parts. For example, if your knee is affected, you may (unconsciously) put more weight on your unaffected leg. This imbalance in weight distribution alters your gait pattern and makes it appear lopsided. 

Guarding and favoring

As a direct result of your pain, you may naturally start guarding or favoring the affected joint. This often means you may limp, lean to one side, or modify your gait to reduce discomfort. While this adaptation is a protective mechanism, it can result in an abnormal gait pattern.

Getting back to normal

When left unchecked, an altered gait can wreak havoc on your musculoskeletal system and add to your long and growing list of pain conditions. Fortunately, we have the tools you need to take back your steps and restore healthy movement. 

Exercise and physical therapy

Regular exercise, namely low-impact activities like swimming or cycling, improves joint mobility and strengthens the muscles around your affected joints, which in turn helps you improve your foot mechanics. You may also lose some weight, taking the stress off your joints and allowing you to walk and move comfortably. 

Additionally, physical therapy provides targeted exercises and techniques to optimize your gait.

Assistive devices

Using canes, crutches, or walkers — even if only briefly — gives you additional support and stability, reduces the stress on your arthritic joints, and helps maintain a more natural and balanced gait while walking.

Orthotic inserts and supportive footwear

Specialized shoe inserts or orthotics can provide cushioning, stability, and proper alignment for your feet and ankles. Supportive footwear with adequate arch support and shock absorption can also help alleviate some pressure on your joints.

Pain management

Getting help from us to relieve your pain is another great way to address your gait problem. Depending on your needs, we recommend the following:

Keep in mind that everyone experiences arthritis differently, and the impact it has on your gait may vary. We work closely with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs.

Arthritis can change your gait, but with the right strategies and support, you can nip these potentially harmful changes in the bud. Don't hesitate to call or click to schedule an appointment with our expert.


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