Limping with arthritis can occur because your body is trying to spend as less time on your painful leg as possible. This is common when experiencing hip, knee and/or ankle osteoarthritis. When you begin to favor one side, your movement begins to change. This can actually lead to more arthritis pain, muscle tightness and other impairments secondary to changing the way you move. There is good news though! You can become more confident with simple movements.
If you find yourself limping or favoring one side because of arthritis pain, it can actually lead to more arthritis pain. I know that if you’re reading this right now, more pain is not your goal.
There are ways that you can actually build more confidence on your painful side so you are able to walk and stand easier and with less pain.
First, we’re gonna talk a little bit about why limping happens and why we start favoring one side, and then I want you to stay till the end, because we’re gonna go through some simple movements that you can do to help to address.
If we haven’t met before my name’s Alyssa, I’m a doctor of physical therapy and I have made it my mission to bring you hope and to show you the best tips and tricks on how to make adventure possible with osteoarthritis.
The goal of this article is to show you there is hope to improve your walking and to actually enjoy it again!
Why limping happens
When we first talk about limping with arthritis, essentially what happens is your body starts to limp or starts to favor one side because it wants to protect your leg and spend as less time as possible on that side.
Limping with arthritis can begin to happen because of a few reasons:
- strength deficits are present
- anticipation of pain
- instability, meaning your body does not trust that leg
In order to reduce limping, it is important to build strength and stability in the hip, knee, and ankle.
Once you begin to feel more confident in putting weight through the painful side, your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are able to finally work together and support your joints how they are meant to. The idea is to move as symmetrically as possible as that is how your body was made to move.
Movements to prevent limping with arthritis
You can follow along in the video above to see visual demonstrations of these movements.
The best place to start working on movements when limping is a problem, the kitchen counter is my favorite.
Using stable support can help to offload the leg and reduce fear of instability and/or falling, especially if you feel like your leg is going to give out or that you may lose your balance.
If you find yourself limping, it may be difficult to put your full weight on the leg you are experiencing difficulty with. The kitchen counter or another supportive surface can do wonders in helping you build confidence.
When setting up for these movements, it is important to have support either in front of you- holding on with both hands or opposite of the painful side like in these pictures below.
1. Multi-directional stepping
This is one of my favorites to help build confidence and reduce limping with arthritis. The ultimate goal is to build up stability on the leg that you don’t trust at this time.
Putting all of your weight on one side can be hard to accomplish at first so choose one of the best supporting positions for you, as explained above.
You will put all of your weight on one side and with the other side, you’ll step forward, sideways then backwards.
I usually recommend starting using support then try to progress away from it as you’re able to.
Now, if you are trying this and you’re getting a lot of shoulder movement or you’re feeling pain on the side that you’re standing on, use the two handed set-up shown in the earlier picture in the article.
Aim to complete 8-12 full repetitions on each side. One repetition= forward, sideways, and backwards.
2. Modified single leg balance
The next movement is starting to work towards balancing all of your weight on one side.
It is common that if you experience limping, you may have difficulty putting all of your weight on one side.
This specific balance exercise can help you to get your leg, particularly your hip used to accepting all of your weight and using your muscles appropriately for stability.
Use a surface like a box, a step, or a cone like in this video. Lightly place your foot on the object and try to transfer most of your weight to your back foot.
First try to stand stationary- using your back foot to keep you grounded. Feel the muscles in your hip fire to keep yourself upright.
If you find you are having difficulty maintaining your balance, lightly touch a surface such as a chair or a kitchen counter for support.
Only add head turns once you are able to master standing stationary without support for at least 15-20 seconds.
3. Front foot elevated lunge
The next step once balance is mastered is to work on single leg strength. There are many different ways build this strength but this is an example many of my clients have liked.
Traditional lunges can create some pressure in the knees so this variation can help to reduce that while challenging your hip and thigh strength. Here is a post about 9 other ways to build thigh strength.
If you are limping with arthritis, there’s a chance there is a strength asymmetry somewhere. For example, if you typically favor your right side- you may notice that side becomes weakened. There are some instances though where the opposite side may show more weakness so we can’t always assume the side you are having pain on or favoring is the weaker side. Solution? Work each side evenly!
Use support if needed and complete 6-12 reps on each side depending on your fitness level and how difficult the exercise feels.
How to be successful
With these movements above, the key is consistency in order to reduce limping with arthritis. Completing these everyday or every other day is a great place to start depending on how your joints react. Make sure to listen to your body and take rest breaks when needed.
Consistency over the next 3-4 weeks may help you begin to notice a difference. Some people will notice it quicker than others so it’s important to stick with it!
The key to reducing limping with arthritis is to build confidence and stability on the side you typically favor and make strength as symmetrical as possible.
My main mission with Keep the Adventure Alive is to show you how to adventure with osteoarthritis. That means how to get back to traveling, how to play with your grandkids, how to even just walk around the neighborhood with friends, walk longer, distances, run errands, whatever it.
I want to show you that you can actually do these things with osteoarthritis because it’s possible!
I have a free webclass that walks you through the exact steps you need to get started in order to make adventuring with osteoarthritis possible.
This webclass is called the “3 Secrets to Adventuring with Osteoarthritis” and so far has helped hundreds of people get started on a pain relief journey. You will learn more about the Arthritis Adventure Blueprint- the signature online program that has helped hundreds of people accomplish things like squatting, being able to get up and down from the floor, and even to avoid surgery.
Learn more and sign up for the webclass below:
The Arthritis Adventure Blueprint
Dr. Alyssa Kuhn’s signature program to help you go from hopeless to hopeful with osteoarthritis. You will learn the secrets to arthritis pain relief that actually work- including exercise, diet, and other ways to control inflammation! Say goodbye to short term pain relief, it’s time to make it last.
Disclaimer: This post is for general informational purposes only. It should not be used to self-diagnose and it is not a substitute for a medical exam, cure, treatment, diagnosis, and prescription or recommendation. It does not create a doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Kuhn and you. You should not make any change in your health regimen or diet before first consulting a physician and obtaining a medical exam, diagnosis, and recommendation. Move Well Age Well, LLC and Dr. Alyssa Kuhn, PT, DPT are not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any conclusions drawn, services or product you obtain through this post, video or site. Complete all exercises at your own risk.