Shuffling Gait

NOTE: There are many causes of shuffling gait patterns. Most of these are disease related, particularly resulting from Parkinson’s Disease or Cerebral Palsy. If you believe you have a shuffling gait, please speak to your physician about it before scheduling an appointment with us.

For our purposes here, shuffling gait describes an otherwise healthy individual (of any age) who walks using abnormally short steps. Causes for this may be problems with balance, hip joint capsule stiffness and/or pain, tight hip muscles, or any of these in combination.

The Shuffler

We often see the elderly walk with a shuffling gait. Their posture describes that of a gradually degenerating body and skeletal system. Their heads lean forward and droop down, they may have a hunched appearance with rounded shoulders and caved chest. Their steps are deliberate, stiff and unsure, as if they might topple any moment.

Another shuffling gait pattern occurs to persons of any age. They simply take short steps because it is somehow uncomfortable to take longer ones. Either there is pain or range of motion problems in the hip or there is muscle pain present. Habitually, they may be used to taking smaller steps because of the style of shoes they wear.

Shuffling Gait Affects Your Life

Let’s look at how.

Balance is all-important to people of any age. In order to be able to sit, stand, walk, or run, we need to be able to balance ourselves in gait and in posture. When we are unsure on our legs, we become unsure on our feet. Healthy individuals need to maintain a strong core to stabilize our bodies in movement. Without core stability, mobility becomes problematic. We slow our pace, shorten our steps and arm swings, and watch the ground immediately ahead instead of looking out at the horizon.

Hip joint capsules can clog up with all sorts of soft and hard tissue problems. The joint is what they call a synovial joint, and contains synovial fluid; a lubricant for the joint itself. The head of the femur (the upper leg bone) fits into the acetabulum, a bone and cartilaginous cup on the pelvis. Ligaments hold the head of the femur in the socket. Encasing all of this is the ligamentous soft tissue of the joint capsule.

For many reasons, the joint capsule can develop into a holding area of crystaline deposits and fibrotic material and “gunk up” the joint. Arthritis can also develop within the joint capsule and become painful, limiting range of motion and causing scarring of the bones. The cartilaginous cup called the labrum can tear and a loose body can result within the joint.

Skeletal muscle develops memory, believe it or not. You can actually see it happening in bodybuilders. Muscles shorten because there are cells called proprioceptors located within muscles that tell the brain (among other things) how long the muscle is. A chronically shortened muscle will eventually be perceived by the brain as “normal”, muscle spindles remain contracted, and a muscle will no longer lengthen by itself. This might affect:

  • how you stand, sit, run, and jump
  • your ability to exercise, walk up or down stairs
  • how you step off or onto a curb, bus, walk up or down a hill
  • how the soles of your shoes wear
  • your knees, hips, low back, and neck and cause you pain
  • how you walk with other people
  • and, obviously, the length of your stride.

Functional Problems

All the above causes and effects of shuffling gait are functional in nature, though some may also be disease related. When we have dysfunctional aspects of our body in movement, chances are good there are ways to reduce the effects or eliminate shuffling gait altogether. What does this mean for you? Pain-free movement, normalized gait, full range of motion, no more pain relieving meds!