More things your walk reveals about your health
Walking Problems: Page 3
Walking clue #7: Bowlegged stride
May reveal: Osteoarthritis
"Think of the classic image of the old, slow, bow-legged cowboy," says orthopedic surgeon Blitzer. "He probably looks that way because of arthritic knees." Eighty-five percent of people with osteoarthritis (OA), the wear-and-tear form of the disease associated with aging, have a slightly bowlegged walk, he says. Bowlegs (also called genu varum) happen because the body can't be supported adequately; the knees literally bow out.
Rickets or genes can also produce a bow-legged walking style, but these causes are more commonly associated with kids than grown-ups, and they can be outgrown or corrected with braces.
Walking clue #8: Knock-kneed appearance
May reveal: Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the kind that's an inflammatory disease, produces a knock-kneed walk, where the knees bend in toward one another. "About 85 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis are knock-kneed," Blitzer says. In knock-knee (genu valgum, or valgus knee), the lower legs aren't straight but bend outward. This can create a distinctive, awkward-looking walk where the knees are close together and the ankles are farther apart. Sometimes osteoarthritis can also result in knock-knees, depending which joints are affected.
Walking clue #9: A shortened stride on turns and when maneuvering around things
May reveal: Poor physical condition
Balance is a function of coordination between three systems: vision, the inner ear, and what's called "proprioception," which is the joints' ability to tell you their position. The joints can do this because of receptors in the connective tissue around them. But the quality of the receptors is related to how much motion the joint experiences. "It's the old use-it-or-lose-it," Bailey says. "When you're active, you lay down more receptors in the connective tissue, so your proprioception is better."
That means you have better balance. And it's why someone with balance problems is often frail or in poor physical condition. "If you have trouble balancing, you have a shorter stride, and it's especially noticeable on turns or when you're maneuvering around objects. You also have trouble going up steps, which requires balancing on one foot for a longer amount of time," Bailey says. "You do much better on straightaways."
Blitzer encourages frail patients who need canes and walkers but avoid them because they "don't want to look old" to set aside their pride and use them. "Better to use adaptive devices and continue to be active than to be sedentary, which is a vicious cycle that makes you more sedentary," he says.
Balance problems can be also be related to peripheral neuropathy, a kind of nerve damage caused by diabetes, Andersen says. Other common causes include alcohol abuse and vitamin deficiencies.