Symptoms A-Z

Limping Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your limping symptoms with Buoy, including 10 causes and common questions concerning your limping.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 10 Possible Limping Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Limping Symptoms

Walking is a common activity that is much more complex than some of us realize. It involves all levels of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that supply the muscles in the body, as well as the musculoskeletal system. [9] While limping can simply be the avoidance of bearing weight on an injured leg or foot, it can also be a sign of many complex neurological conditions. If limping is due to injury or pain, it can likely be treated with rest, ice, crutches, or physical therapy. [10] If limping is due to a neurologic condition, it will likely require evaluation by a doctor to determine the cause and appropriate treatment or therapy. [3]

Symptoms that can be associated with limping include:

  • Pain in the foot or leg. [10]
  • Hip pain. [10]
  • Weakness [8] or numbness in the legs or feet. [4]
  • Difficulty standing from a seated position. [4]
  • Shooting pain down the backs of the legs. [4]
  • Frequent falls. [11]
  • Feeling of imbalance. [10]
  • Inability to flex the toes. [4]

Limping Causes

The most common cause of limping in an otherwise healthy individual is injury or pain to the foot, leg, or hip. There are many acute and chronic causes of hip and leg pain. Limping allows the individual to avoid bearing weight on the painful limb. [1,2] However, since walking involves all levels of the nervous system, a limp can also be a sign of injury to the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves. [3] As people age, it is more common to develop a limp due to a neurologic disorder. [4] Additionally, some medical problems like heart and lung disease can change the way people walk, resulting in a limp. [5]

Orthopedic conditions:

  • Injury: Pain or injury to the foot or leg can cause someone to limp. To avoid pain, weight is placed on the affected foot or leg for as short a time as possible, resulting in a limp. [1] Trauma or overuse injuries are common causes of foot and leg pain. [2]
  • Hip Problems: In patients with hip pain, the upper body is typically shifted towards the affected side unconsciously to reduce forces exerted on the hip. This can cause a limp. Acute or chronic injury to the hip join or the bones and muscles surrounding the hip joint can result in a limp. [6]
  • Deformity: Occasionally people are born with muscular or skeletal deformities that result in a limp. A common cause of genetic limp is having one leg that is significantly shorter than the other. [6]

Neuromuscular disorders:

  • Genetic Conditions: Muscular dystrophies and other inherited disorders can cause weakness to muscles in the hips and legs, resulting in a limp. [3,6]
  • Spinal Cord Compression: Compression to the spinal cord from injury or age-related degenerative disease can lead to weakness in the muscles of the legs and feet, resulting in a limp. [7]
  • Inflammation: Infectious and inflammatory conditions can affect the muscles in the legs, leading to weakness and a possible limp. [2]

Other causes:

  • Neurologic Conditions: It is particularly common for neurologic conditions to be the cause of limping in elderly individuals. A new limp in an elderly individual warrants an evaluation by a doctor. [4]
  • Psychological Disorders: Occasionally, limping or changes in walking can be associated with psychological disorders. [4]
  • Heart and Lung Disorders: It is possible that disease to the cardiorespiratory system (heart and lungs) could affect the way people walk, leading to a limp. [5]
  • Medications: It is possible that medication side effects could affect muscles or nerves and cause a limp. [8]

10 Possible Limping Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced limping. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Posterior tibialis tendinopathy

The posterior tibialis tendon attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the underside of the foot. It provides stability and arch support. If this tendon is damaged, the result may be a flat, unstable foot.

Posterior tibialis tendinopathy is most often a sports injury, where the tendon becomes inflamed or torn through overuse or high impact.

Symptoms include pain down the ankle and into the foot, sometimes with swelling. The pain becomes worse with any activity, even standing or walking. When standing, the patient's arch will be collapsed and flat and the front of the foot will point outward. The patient will be unable to stand on the injured foot and raise the heel.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as x-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

Treatment involves rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, orthotics (shoe pads,) braces, and sometimes steroid injections into the damaged tendon. Surgery can be tried, but tends to be complex and cannot always restore the tendon completely.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: swollen foot, pain in one foot, limping, pain in one ankle, spontaneous ankle pain

Symptoms that never occur with posterior tibialis tendinopathy: recent cutting accident

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Developmental dysplasia of the hip

Developmental dysplasia of the hip is a condition affecting infants and young children in which abnormal development of the hip joint causes it to become unstable and predisposed to dislocation. Developmental dysplasia can be caused by a breech position of the fetus before it is born, as well as female gender, family history, and swaddling the infant.

Symptoms primarily include hip instability and a limited range of motion, as well as possible leg asymmetry or an abnormal gait.

Treatments depend on the age of the infant, and may include observation, splints or harnesses, and closed or open reductions in which the hip is put back in a proper position.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: limping, snapping or clicking sensation of the hip, difficulty crawling, difficulty putting on diapers

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Hip fracture

Hip fractures are cracks in the top of the thigh bone (femur) near where it meets the pelvis socket (acetabulum) to form the hip joint. They commonly occur due to a fall or a direct blow to the hip.

Symptoms include groin pain, an inability to walk or put weight on the affected leg, knee pain, an inability to fully lift the leg, bruising and swelling, and visible deformity of the leg. Not all associated symptoms of hip fracture will necessarily be present for this condition to be confirmed.

Treatments include pain control, surgery, and rehabilitation.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one knee, constant hip pain, groin pain, severe hip pain, limping

Symptoms that always occur with hip fracture: hip pain from an injury, constant hip pain

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Mild/moderate hip arthritis

Arthritis of the hip is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the hip. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Hip arthritis can make it hard to do many everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. It is a major cause of lost work time and a serious disability for many people.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: hip pain, difficulty walking, pain in one hip, limping, groin pain

Symptoms that always occur with mild/moderate hip arthritis: hip pain

Symptoms that never occur with mild/moderate hip arthritis: severe hip pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Severe hip arthritis

Arthritis of the hip is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the hip. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Hip arthritis can make it hard to do many everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. It is a major cause of lost work time and a serious disability for many people.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: hip pain, difficulty walking, severe hip pain, spontaneous back pain, pain in one hip

Symptoms that always occur with severe hip arthritis: hip pain

Symptoms that never occur with severe hip arthritis: mild hip pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Limping Symptom Checker

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Foot sprain

A foot sprain is damage to ligaments within the foot. The term "sprain" refers to overstretching or tearing of ligaments — the strong, fibrous bands of tissue that hold the bones together within the joints. Foot sprains are usually sports or dance injuries. Any sort of running movement that involves sudden stops, starts, and twisting can lead to a foot sprain. Suddenly getting the foot caught while walking or running can wrench the ligaments and cause a sprain.

Symptoms include(https://www.buoyhealth.com/symptoms-a-z/painful-foot-swelling/), bruising, and pain in the affected foot, especially with weight-bearing. If symptoms do not resolve quickly or seem to get worse instead of better, a medical provider should be seen to make sure no fracture is involved.

The diagnosis is made through physical examination and imaging such as X-ray, CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI.

Treatment is usually conservative and involves rest to allow healing; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain; elevating the foot to improve circulation; wrapping the foot with an Ace bandage or wearing a special boot for support.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one foot, foot injury, limping, warm red foot swelling, swelling of one foot

Symptoms that always occur with foot sprain: pain in one foot, foot injury

Symptoms that never occur with foot sprain: recent cutting accident

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Iliopsoas bursitis

Bursae are small fluid-filled sacks located around the body in strategic locations to provide a cushion and help reduce friction. Iliopsoas bursitis, or hip bursitis, is an inflammation of the hip bursa, causing pain at the point of the hip. The pain may extend to the outside of the thigh area.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: thigh pain, groin pain, limping, snapping or clicking sensation of the hip, pain in the front of the hip

Symptoms that never occur with iliopsoas bursitis: fever, back pain, butt pain from an injury, pain in both hips, unmovable hip lump, hard hip lump, back pain that shoots down the leg

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Greater trochanteric pain syndrome

Greater trochanteric pain syndrome, also called trochanteric bursitis or GTPS, is an inflammation of the bursa of the greater trochanter. Bursae are the small "cushions" between tendons, bones, and muscles. The greater trochanter is the larger of two bony knobs at the top of the thigh bone. Overuse, trauma, or infection can cause inflamed and irritated bursae around the greater trochanter.

Symptoms include chronic, persistent pain on the outside of the hip that(https://www.buoyhealth.com/symptoms-a-z/hip-pain-shoots-knee/).

Treatment largely involves managing the symptoms through weight loss, physical therapy, and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In some cases, corticosteroid injections into the hip work well to relieve pain, and surgery can sometimes help.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: lower back pain, pain in the outside of the hip, moderate hip pain, groin pain, limping

Symptoms that always occur with greater trochanteric pain syndrome: pain in the outside of the hip

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Hip dislocation

Hip dislocation is relatively rare and means that the ball-shaped head of the femur, or thighbone, has been forced out of its socket in the pelvic bone.

In some cases hip dislocation can result from congenital abnormality or as a complication of hip replacement surgery, but it is most often caused by trauma. Car accidents, sports injuries, or falls from a height are usually involved.

Symptoms include pain; inability to walk or move the leg; and the knee turned inward with the foot pointed towards the other leg.

This injury is considered a medical emergency. Because hip dislocations are usually caused by trauma, broken bones and soft tissue damage are likely to be present even if not immediately obvious. Avascular necrosis, or death of bone tissue in the hip joint due to a cutoff in the blood supply, is a possible complication.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and imaging, such as x-ray, CT scan, and/or MRI.

Treatment involves replacing the joint back in the socket and treating any other injuries, and may require surgery.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: hip pain, moderate hip pain, dull, achy hip pain, thigh pain, groin pain

Symptoms that always occur with hip dislocation: hip pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Hip bone damage (osteonecrosis)

Osteonecrosis of the hip is painful, progressive damage of the hip joint caused by a loss of blood flow.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: severe or worsening pain in the hip or groin area, thigh pain, deep, throbbing hip pain, limping, pain in one knee

Symptoms that always occur with hip bone damage (osteonecrosis): severe or worsening pain in the hip or groin area

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Limping Treatments and Relief

Limping that is due to orthopedic pain or injury may be able to be treated at home with lifestyle modifications or over-the-counter medications. However, a limp that persists should be evaluated by a medical professional. If the cause is suspected to be orthopedic, they may suggest imaging, crutches, or physical therapy. [10] If the cause is suspected to be neurologic, they may suggest further neurologic testing and/or imaging of the head and spinal cord. [3]

Seek emergency treatment if:

  • You experience sudden-onset of trouble walking, loss of balance, or numbness or weakness in face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body. This could be a sign of stroke. [12]
  • You experience new numbness or tingling in the legs or feet. [13]
  • You experience a sudden inability to control your bowels or bladder (incontinence.) [14]

Home limping treatments include:

  • Rest: If an acute or overuse injury is the cause of a limp, resting the injured foot or leg for several days may help. [8,10]
  • Ice: If an acute or overuse injury is the cause of a limp, icing the injury may reduce swelling. [8,10]
  • Painkillers: If injury and pain is the suspected cause of a limp, over the counter pain killers like ibuprofen or other NSAIDs may help. [8]

Medical professional limping treatments include:

  • Crutches: Crutches can help in the event of an acute injury to reduce weight on the injured foot or leg. [8]
  • Physical Therapy: A person may benefit from physical therapy if orthopedic injury or muscular weakness is the cause of a limp. [8]
  • Neurologic Assessment: A doctor may do a full neurologic assessment to determine the cause of a limp, particularly if they suspect the cause is in the brain, spinal cord, or nerves. A neurologic assessment generally includes testing strength, sensation, cognitive ability, and ability to walk, among other things. [4]
  • Genetic Testing: If a doctor suspects that an inherited condition may be the cause of a limp, they may order genetic testing. [10]
  • Imaging: If a doctor suspects a neurologic condition may be the cause of a limp, they may order a CT scan or an MRI of the brain and/or spinal cord. [10]

FAQs About Limping

Here are some frequently asked questions about limping.

Do "growing pains" cause limping?

Growing pains in children do not cause limping. In order for pain to be classified as growing pain, it needs to meet three criteria. Growing pain is present only at night; it is present in both legs; and by definition it does not cause a limp. [6] There are multiple reasons as to why a child could be limping, including injury, infection, or genetic disorders. If a child has a limp, he or she should be evaluated by a doctor. [10]

How do you get septic arthritis?

Septic arthritis is a bacterial infection in a joint. In most cases, bacteria from the bloodstream spreads to the joint causing septic arthritis. It is also possible to introduce bacteria into the joint from trauma or bites, during surgery to a joint, or from infections elsewhere in the body (e.g. bone, soft tissue) that spread into a joint. Septic arthritis is a serious condition and should be evaluated emergently by a physician. [15]

What does it mean to go limp?

Going limp can refer to several different conditions. Going limp can refer to sudden loss of muscle tone, which can occur when someone faints or has an atonic seizure. There are many different causes of fainting, which should be evaluated by a doctor. [16] Going limp can also refer to losing an erection. Male sexual dysfunction can occur for a variety of medical and non-medical reasons. [17]

How do you correct limping when you walk?

Limping in adults can be due to a variety of reasons, including pain or trauma to the hip, leg, or foot, as well as a variety of neurologic conditions. A new limp, particularly in an older person, should be evaluated by a doctor. [2,4] In some cases, crutches, canes, or other assistive devices can help correct a limp. In other cases, physical therapy to strengthen muscles can help in correcting a limp. [10]

Can limping cause hip pain?

Any changes in the way you walk can put excess pressure or force on joints and cause pain. [1] However, hip pain can actually cause a limp as well. In patients with hip pain, the upper body is typically shifted towards the affected side unconsciously to reduce forces exerted on the hip. This can cause a limp. [1] Acute or chronic injury to the hip joint or the bones and muscles surrounding the hip joint can result in a limp. [2]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Limping

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Do your symptoms get worse when you exercise?
  • Can you stand on both legs?
  • Did you just suffer from a high impact injury (e.g., a fall, collision, accident or sports trauma)?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Limping Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced limping have also experienced:

  • 6% Hip Pain
  • 5% Lower Back Pain
  • 4% Deep, Throbbing Hip Pain

People who have experienced limping were most often matched with:

  • 53% Hip Fracture
  • 23% Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy
  • 23% Developmental Dysplasia Of The Hip

People who have experienced limping had symptoms persist for:

  • 38% Over a month
  • 24% Less than a week
  • 21% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Limping Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Harrington IJ, Harris WR. Can 'Favouring' One Leg Damage the Other? British Editorial Society of Bone and Joint Surgery. 1994;76-B:519-520. Bone and Joint Online Link.
  2. Herman MJ, Martinek M. The Limping Child. Pediatrics in Review. 2015;36(5):184-195. NCBI Link.
  3. The Causes of Limp. Paediatric Musculoskeletal Matters International. pmm-international Link.
  4. U.S. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. Acute Low Back Pain Problems in Adults: Assessment and Treatment. Chirobase. Published 1994. Chirobase Link.
  5. Pipinos II. Mechanisms That Produce the Leg Dysfunction of Claudication (Leg Pain and Limping During Walking) and Treatment Strategies for the Care of Patients with Claudication. ClinicalTrials.gov. Updated September 26, 2017. ClinicalTrials.gov Link.
  6. Hill JF. The Limping Child. Texas Children's Hospital. Texas Children's Hospital Link.
  7. Brunner LC, Eshilian-Oates L, Kuo TY. Hip Fractures in Adults. American Family Physician. 2003;67(3):537-543. AAFP Link.
  8. Herman MI. A Limping 6-Year Old. Radiology Cases in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. 4:16. University of Hawaii Link.
  9. Cavagna GA, Margaria R. Mechanics of Walking. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1966;21(1):271-278. American Physiology Society Link.
  10. Limping in Children. Excel Physical Therapy & Wellness. Published 2011. Excel Physical Therapy Link.
  11. Lowth M. Gait Abnormalities in Children. Patient.info. Published August 12, 2014. Patient.info Link.
  12. When to Go to the ER. United Regional Physician Group. UR Physician Group Link.
  13. Caring for Your Feet When You Have Diabetes. The Permanente Medical Group: My Doctor Online. My Doctor Online Link.
  14. Cauda Equina Syndrome. UW Medicine. UW Medicine Link.
  15. Septic Arthritis. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link.
  16. Seizures in Children: Symptoms & Causes. Boston Children's Hospital. Boston Children's Hospital Link.
  17. Sexual Dysfunction. Wayne State University: Department of Urology. Department of Urology Link.