More things your walk reveals about your health
Walking Problems: Page 4
Walking clue #10: A flat step without much lift
May reveal: Flat feet, bunions, neuromas
Flat feet are obvious at a glance: There's almost no visible arch (hence one of the condition's names, "fallen arches"). But other conditions can also cause a flat walk. When the person takes a step, the foot flattens even as the heel is lifting off the ground, when it would normally be going into an arched position. The heel may also shift slightly to the inside when it comes up, and the toes may flex upward.
These kind of movements are attempts to create better stability where there isn't any because of a painful bunion (an abnormal enlargement of the bone or tissue around the base of the big toe) or a neuroma (a nerve condition) in the foot. The most common neuroma, called Morton's neuroma, is extremely painful thickening of the nerve between the third and fourth toes. The stepping pattern changes in order to protect what hurts.
Walking clue #11: Shuffling
May reveal: Parkinson's disease
Shuffling -- bending forward and having difficulty lifting feet off the ground -- isn't an inevitable aspect of aging. It's a distinct gait that may indicate that someone has Parkinson's disease. The person's steps may also be short and hesitant.
"Shuffling is one of the most common manifestations of Parkinson's, a neuromotor dysfunction in a neuromuscular disease," says Blitzer. Along with tremors, it can be an early sign of the disease.
People with advanced dementia, such as is caused by Alzheimer's disease, may also shuffle as a result of cognitive trouble -- the brain and musculature don't communicate well. But by the time this happens, memory loss and problems with thinking skills are far more obvious.
Walking clue #12: Walking on tiptoes, both feet
May reveal: Cerebral palsy or spinal cord trauma
Another distinctive gait owing to an underlying condition is "toe-walking." The toe reaches the ground before the heel, instead of the other way around. It's related to overactive muscle tone, caused by stretch receptors that fire incorrectly in the brain. When the toe-walking happens on both sides, it's almost always because of damage high in the spinal column or brain, such as cerebral palsy or spinal cord trauma.
Note: Sometimes toddlers walk on tiptoe for a while as they're getting the hang of it, but this doesn't mean they have a palsy. If you're concerned, mention it to the child's doctor, who will assess for other signs of a problem.