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Learn about your limping, including causes and common questions. Or get a personalized analysis of your limping from our A.I. Symptom Checker. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Limping Symptoms

Symptoms that can be associated with limping include:

Limping Causes Overview

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. 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. As people age, it is more common to develop a limp due to a neurologic disorder. Additionally, some medical problems like heart and lung disease can change the way people walk, resulting in a limp.

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. Trauma or overuse injuries are common causes of foot and leg pain.
  • 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 surround the hip joint can result in a limp.
  • 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.

Neuromuscular disorders:

  • Genetic Conditions: Muscular dystrophies and other inherited disorders can cause weakness to muscles in the hips and legs, resulting in a limp.
  • 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.
  • Inflammation: Infectious and inflammatory conditions can affect the muscles in the legs, leading to weakness and possible limp.

Other causes:

  • Neurologic Conditions: It is particularly common for neurologic conditions to be the cause of limp in elderly individuals. A new limp in an elderly individual warrants an evaluation by a doctor.
  • Psychologic Disorders: Occasionally, limping or changes in walking can be associated with psychologic disorders.
  • 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.
  • Medications: It is possible that medication side effects could affect muscles or nerves and cause a limp.

Top 10 Limping Causes

  1. 1.Hip Fracture

    A hip fracture is a break in the upper quarter of the femur (thigh) bone. The extent of the break depends on the forces that are involved, which determines the type of surgery used for treatment.

    You should seek immediate medical care at an urgent care clinic or ER as complications can become life-threatening. Treatment involves a combination of surgery, rehabilitation and medication.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one knee, constant hip pain, groin pain, severe hip pain, pain in the outside of the hip
    Symptoms that always occur with hip fracture:
    hip pain from an injury, constant hip pain
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  2. 2.Foot Sprain

    The bones of the ankle and foot are held together by ligaments, which are bands of tough tissue. A sprain is a type of injury where one or more of the ligaments is stretched too far, causing tiny fibers in the ligaments to tear. In most cases, the ligament does not tear completely.

    You should go to a retail clinic to have the foot sprain evaluated. Most often, minor sprains can be treated by resting the foot, elevating it while sitting or laying down, and applying an ice pack or heat. Over-the-counter pain medication can help as well.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one foot, limping, foot injury, 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
  3. 3.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.

    You should visit your primary care physician. Treatment for this condition usually involves avoiding activities that worsen the symptoms, over-the-counter pain medication, physical therapy, and steroid injections. Surgery is rarely needed.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    groin pain, thigh pain, limping, snapping or clicking sensation of the hip, hip pain from overuse
    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
  4. 4.Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome

    Greater trochanteric pain syndrome is a common cause of hip pain caused by damage to the tendons and/or bursa (fluid-filled sac near a joint) at the outside point of the hip known as the greater trochanter.

    You should visit your primary care physician if your pain interferes with your normal day-to-day activities or you are not finding relief. However, most cases improve without any treatment over a few weeks.

    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
  5. 5.Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip

    Developmental dysplasia of the hip is a condition where the hip joint develops incorrectly. This is usually present at birth, and affects girls more than boys.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate care with a muscle and bone specialist (orthopedic surgery). This condition is treated with a special harness, as well as several types of surgical procedures.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    limping, snapping or clicking sensation of the hip, difficulty crawling, difficulty putting on diapers
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  6. 6.Hip Dislocation

    A slipped capital femoral epiphysis is a separation of the ball of the hip joint from the thigh bone (femur) at the upper growing end (growth plate) of the bone.

    You should seek immediate medical care at an urgent care clinic or ER. A doctor will confirm the diagnosis with X-Ray or CT imaging, and if confirmed, you will be admitted to the hospital to have complete bed rest. Surgery is usually advised to stabilize the slipped bone and prevent it from moving further.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    hip pain, moderate hip pain, limping, dull, achy hip pain, thigh pain
    Symptoms that always occur with hip dislocation:
    hip pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Hip Bone Damage (Osteonecrosis)

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

    Hip/groin/thigh pain that affects your hip motion should be assessed for osteonecrosis as soon as possible (ER), where imaging via MRI (and rarely, X-rays) might visualize the injury. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease, and includes everything from physical therapy to medications to improve bone strength to surgery to take out dead bone.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    limping, severe or worsening pain in the hip or groin area, thigh pain, pain in one knee, deep, throbbing hip pain
    Symptoms that always occur with hip bone damage (osteonecrosis):
    severe or worsening pain in the hip or groin area
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  8. 8.Osteoid Osteoma

    An osteoid osteoma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor that usually develops in the long bones of the legs. The thigh bone (femur) is affected most commonly, although the bones of the hand or the spine can have occasional involvement. This condition is most often found in young people.

    You should visit your primary care physician. This condition requires a variety of treatments such as minimally invasive surgery to kill or scrape off the tumor.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain that shoots to the butt, upper back pain, spontaneous back pain
    Symptoms that never occur with osteoid osteoma:
    hip pain, bilateral leg swelling, weakness in both arms, weakness of both legs
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy

    Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy is the dysfunction of a tendon (muscles to bones) in the back of the foot, which can lead to having flat feet. It's unclear why exactly it happens, but might be related to poor blood flow and mechanical issues specific to the person.

    You should visit your primary care physician, who can diagnose this condition by clinical interview and exam. Treatment is conservative and involves a cast, over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, and orthotic footwear. Surgery is a last resort.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one foot, swollen foot, limping, pain in one ankle, heel pain
    Symptoms that never occur with posterior tibialis tendinopathy:
    recent cutting accident
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Osgood - Schlatter Disease

    This condition is a common cause of knee pain amount children and adolescents who play sports, and usually affects children 16 and younger. Osgood-Schlatter Disease usually develops due to overuse of the large quadriceps (quad) muscle which makes up the front of the thigh. The muscle pulls on the kneecap and the kneecap (patellar) ligament, which attaches to the upper part of the shin bone (tibia). With overuse, redness and soreness may develop in the knee.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own. The problem will go away on its own without any specific treatment. Over-the-counter pain medication may help with the occasional flare-up.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when squatting, knee pain that gets worse during a run, knee pain that gets worse when going up stairs, knee pain that gets worse when kneeling
    Symptoms that always occur with osgood-schlatter disease:
    knee pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

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. If the cause is suspected to be neurologic, they may suggest further neurologic testing and/or imaging of the head and spinal cord.

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.
  • You experience new numbness or tingling in the legs or feet.
  • You experience a sudden inability to control your bowels or bladder (incontinence).

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.
  • Ice: If an acute or overuse injury is the cause of a limp, icing the injury may reduce swelling.
  • Pain Killers: If injury and pain is the suspected cause of a limp, over the counter pain killers like ibuprofen or other NSAIDs may help.

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.
  • Physical Therapy: A person may benefit from physical therapy if orthopedic injury or muscular weakness is the cause of a limp.
  • 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.
  • Genetic Testing: If a doctor suspects a genetic condition may be the cause of a limp, they may order genetic testing.
  • 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.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Limping

  • Q.Has your walking difficulty gotten better or worse?
  • Q.Is your difficulty walking constant or come-and-go?
  • Q.How difficult is it to walk?
  • Q.How long has your walking difficulty been going on?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our limping symptom checker.

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Limping Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced limping have also experienced:

    • 7% Hip Pain
    • 4% Deep, Throbbing Hip Pain
    • 4% Foot Pain
  • People who have experienced limping had symptoms persist for:

    • 41% Over a Month
    • 23% Less Than a Day
    • 22% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced limping were most often matched with:

    • 9% Hip Fracture
    • 7% Foot Sprain

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