Ask our GP: what's causing my limp?

Dr David Roche / 02 March 2015

Saga Magazine's Dr David Roche answers a reader's question about what might have caused a pronounced limp.

Q: My son recently pointed out that I appear to have developed a pronounced limp. I have since become aware that when walking my right leg moves quite smoothly, but my left leg snaps very quickly into the vertical position, then to the rear. I have no control over the movement other than to walk very, very slowly and this puts going out for a walk with the family out of the question. There is no pain, but my left knee feels very weak. Do you think this problem will get worse over time?

A: The way you are describing your symptoms suggests that you do not have full control of the left leg throughout your walking stride. Problems with the muscle or, more particularly, the nerves that control those muscles should be explored. There are a range of causes but those involving the nervous system would be the priority.

Nerves can be damaged at any point from the brain itself through the brain stem, the spinal cord and finally the nerves into the leg. Your GP should be able to observe you walking and then do some simple tests of power, tone, coordination and reflexes in the limb to narrow down a likely cause. Further investigations through a neurologist may be required.

Nervous system diseases such as stroke, tumours, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord compression all need to be considered, but there are many others.

Whether or not it will deteriorate with time depends on the diagnosis, so it is time to visit your GP. A lot of useful information can be gained from short video clips taken on a mobile phone, particularly if the problem is intermittent. Perhaps your son could record the problem for you, so that you can show it to your GP.
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