Read below about limping, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your limping from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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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. 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. 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.

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 surrounding 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 a possible limp.

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.
  • Psychological Disorders: Occasionally, limping or changes in walking can be associated with psychological 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.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Limping

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced limping. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.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.

    Progressive and relapsing, needing several attempts to fix the problem

    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
  2. 2.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.

    Cast after surgery for at least 12 weeks. Excellent prognosis.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    limping, snapping or clicking sensation of the hip, difficulty crawling, difficulty putting on diapers
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.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.

    Full recovery can take from 2-3 months to a year

    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
  4. 4.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.

    Varies with treatment

    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
  5. 5.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.

    6-8 months after surgery, patients reported to recover about 80% of physical functioning compared to healthy persons

    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 Checker

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    Limping Quiz
  6. 6.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.

    An uncomplicated foot sprain should improve in 3-6 weeks.

    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
  7. 7.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.

    Problem should resolve within weeks to months.

    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
  8. 8.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.

    Weeks to years

    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
  9. 9.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.

    With treatment and after recovery in the hospital, no long-term effects.

    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
  10. 10.Hip Bone Damage (Osteonecrosis)

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

    4 years

    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. 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.
  • Painkillers: 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.

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, and goes away during the day. Additionally, growing pain is present in both legs, and by definition, does not cause a limp. There are multiple reasons a child could be limping, including injury, infection, or genetic disorders. If a child has a limp, it should be evaluated by a doctor.

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 for bacteria originating from infections elsewhere in the body (e.g. bone, soft tissue) spread into a joint. Septic arthritis is a serious condition and should be evaluated emergently by a physician.

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. There are many different causes of fainting, which should be evaluated by a doctor. Going limp can also refer to losing an erection. Male sexual dysfunction can occur for a variety of medical and non-medical reasons.

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. 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.

Can limping cause hip pain?

Any changes in the way you walk can put excess pressure or force on joints and cause pain. 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. Acute or chronic injury to the hip joint or the bones and muscles surrounding the hip joint can result in a limp.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Limping

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

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

Limping Quiz

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 had symptoms persist for:

    • 38% Over a Month
    • 24% Less Than a Week
    • 21% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced limping were most often matched with:

    • 53% Hip Fracture
    • 23% Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy
    • 23% Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having limping

Limping Quiz