What Is an Antalgic Gait?

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on February 20, 2024
3 min read

An antalgic gait occurs when you walk with a limp because of pain. It’s a common problem and usually caused by minor injuries. Sometimes, though, it can have a more serious cause.

Your gait is your pattern of walking, which can be influenced by age, mood, and personality. A normal gait is a cycle of the stance phase where your feet touch the ground and the swing phase where your foot is in the air. You learn this normal cycle and rhythm by the time you’re age 3, and it is fully developed by age 8 to 10. 

Some people have an altered gait for various reasons. One is an antalgic gait, which is a limp that’s caused by pain in your lower limbs. If it hurts to put pressure on your knee, ankle, or foot when you walk, you will compensate by shortening your stance phase. This means you won’t bear your full weight and will limp to avoid pain. 

Antalgic gait often goes along with antalgic lean. This happens when you shift your posture and lean to one side to relieve back or leg pain. This takes pressure off the sore area.

Pain is the main cause of antalgic gait. Anything that leads to pain in your lower limbs, spine, or hips can lead to an altered gait. This can include:

Injury. A sports injury, car accident, fall, and lots of other accidents or injuries can cause pain and a limp. These can be minor or serious injuries like a:

Inflammation. Some conditions can cause swelling in your joints and nerves, leading to an antalgic gait. These can include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis, where your immune system attacks your joints
  • Osteoarthritis, where wear and tear causes your joints to break down
  • Gout, a condition where uric acid builds up in your joints, usually your big toe
  • Neuropathy: nerve damage that causes numbness or tingling
  • Hip or knee bursitis: swelling in the sacs around your hip or knee joint

Infection. An infection in the spine, leg bone, or tissues that can lead to pain and trouble walking. These conditions include:

  • Osteomyelitis, an infection in your bone
  • Epidural abscess, an infection between your spine bones and the lining of your spine
  • Septic arthritis, a blood infection that leads to infection in your joints
  • Discitis, an infection in the spongy discs of your spine

Other conditions. Problems in your arteries, veins, and blood vessels, such as deep vein thrombosis, can lead to antalgic gait, as well as tumors in your lower limbs or spine. 

The main symptom of an antalgic gait is a limp because of pain. The pain causes you to avoid walking on the affected leg or foot. If you have a limp but don’t have pain, you might have a different gait disorder.

If you have a major injury or accident, or pain that doesn’t go away, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. You should also see your doctor if you have other signs of problems like:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Heat
  • Fever
  • A general feeling of illness
  • Inability to put any weight at all on your leg

These symptoms could mean you have an infection, sprain, broken bone, or blood clot

Your doctor will treat the underlying cause of your antalgic gait. A minor injury that leads to a limp will often heal on its own, and your limp will go away. Stay off your foot or leg and avoid any intense activities until it heals. 

Other antalgic gait treatment varies depending on the cause but can include:

In most cases, an antalgic gait is caused by something minor and will go away on its own once the injury heals. Sometimes, though, it is a sign of a serious health problem that can lead to complications if untreated. These health problems can include:

  • Life-threatening infection
  • Joint damage
  • Bone damage
  • Limb loss

Pain and trouble walking can also cause falls and more injuries and pain, especially in older adults