Limping is an abnormal way of walking that results in involuntarily or intentionally favoring one side of the body over the other. It sometimes occurs because of muscle weakness (paralytic limping) or the need to compensate for pain in the lower extremities (antalgic limping), such as the type of discomfort that might be associated with a worn lumbar spinal disc or sciatica. In some cases, unequal leg length contributes to an abnormal gait. But can limping actually cause back pain? This is the topic we’re going to explore today.
Limping changes the body’s center of gravity by shifting weight unevenly to one side. If this shift is severe enough, it could place added stress on the muscles that support the lower back, including ones in the hips and thighs. This added strain could affect any of the following structures:
• Lumbar (lower spine) discs
• Spinal (facet) joints
• Weight-bearing joints in the hips, knees, and ankles
Note: Limping due to muscle paralysis or unequal leg length tends to cause the most disruption to the body’s center of gravity.
If you limp on a regular basis, you might find yourself overcompensating in your trunk area to maintain your balance. For instance, you might lean forward excessively or extend your spine a bit too far backward. This overcompensating could weaken the muscles in your lower back, buttocks, and abdomen that support your spine.
Because limping results in exaggerated bending movements and trunk rotations, your lower back area may move too much. This added movement may accelerate the normal wear and tear that usually occurs slowly with age. The amount of force placed on your spine and its various parts as a result of limping will also depend on other related factors, including:
• Your weight
• Existing joint deformities related to other issues
• Stride length
• The extent of the limp and your walking speed
• Gait patterns and how your spinal alignment is affected
It’s likely limping can cause or contribute to back pain. In some instances, the reverse is true. For example, you might start walking with a limp because of discomfort you’re experiencing in one leg that’s affected by an irritated sciatic nerve—the longest nerve in the human body, which starts in the lower back and moves downward.
Treatment will depend on the nature of your limp and how it affects your spine. If limping is related to another issue but still contributing to back pain, you may be referred to an orthopedic specialist, a neuromuscular doctor, or even a podiatrist. But if your limping only recently started after you began experiencing back pain, you may be referred to a spine specialist. Some patients benefit from postural exercises, while others see better results with medication, physical therapy, bracing, or, under certain circumstances, surgical procedures such as artificial disc replacement surgery. Santa Monica patients who are experiencing prolonged back pain should see a spine specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
If your quality of life is being affected by back pain, seek the advice of an experienced Santa Monica spine surgeon with specialized expertise in techniques that provide back pain relief. The pioneering spinal health experts at The Spine Institute use state-of-the-art technology and innovative methods to help patients find relief from neck and back pain. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.