Back injuries, joint problems, or chronic pain can all be causes of an abnormal gait in veterans. Accidents or simple wear and tear, while you were in the service, can show up years later in a limp or frequent stumbling while you walk. Every time you take a step, you’re activating more than just your legs and feet.
There are many different systems that must work collectively to create a normal stride. If your coordination, balance, strength, or sensation is altered in any way, it can cause what’s known as an abnormal gait.
Are you a veteran experiencing this condition? There are many ways a veteran could service connect their abnormal gait for VA disability benefits. Understanding abnormal gait begins with knowing the signs and recognizing the symptoms.
In this article about VA ratings for abnormal gait:
- What is abnormal gait?
- Understanding abnormal gait: the different types
- What causes abnormal gait?
- Is your abnormal gait related to your service?
- How does the VA rate abnormal gait and related injuries?
- Understanding your VA rating for abnormal gait
What is abnormal gait?
In short, “gait” refers to the way a person walks. Most people are used to lacing up their shoes, heading out, and not thinking twice as they put one foot in front of the other.
However, for someone with an abnormal gait, the body systems that control their walking do not function normally. These can be any of the following systems or parts:
- Spinal cord
- Inner Ear
- Muscles of the legs, hips, or back
- Sensory nerves for any part of your body
When any of these are compromised, it can lead to jerky, uncontrolled walking that impedes mobility and impacts one’s quality of life. This is why some people call it “awkward gait.”
In certain cases, abnormal gaits will clear up on their own. This is especially the case if the abnormality is injury-related and sufficient treatment is received. However, depending on the cause, the condition can be permanent.
Whether the condition is temporary or long-term, an abnormal gait can be physically painful. In addition, it can also lead to secondary aches and pains associated with the extra stress that your altered walking pattern puts on your joints.
Understanding abnormal gait: the different types
It’s helpful to understand that not all abnormal gaits are classified in the same way. Understanding which category applies to you is the key.
Let’s take a look at five different ways the condition can be categorized.
If you drag your feet while walking, the condition is known as spastic gait. This same category applies to anyone whose gait makes them look particularly stiff-legged.
With steppage gait, your toes will point down toward the ground as you walk. This can cause your toes to scrape against the ground any time you step forward.
Do your legs bend inward as you walk? If so, you might have scissors gait.
Often, the inversion will be so extreme that your legs cross and hit one another. In effect, the criss-cross motion resembles a pair of scissors, leading to the name of this condition.
Propulsive gait is a condition that causes you to walk with your head and neck pushed out. As a result, it can look like you’re rigidly slouched over.
As the name implies, someone with waddling gait will move from side to side when walking. Your body will swing in response to the movement, and your steps will be short.
While these are the five most common categories of abnormal gait, you may also be diagnosed with this condition if you have a limp.
What causes abnormal gait?
Having an abnormal gait can point to several types of disabilities found all over the body. While we discuss a few below, this is not an exhaustive list.
Potential causes behind temporary gait changes and balance issues include:
For instance, if you break your ankle, you’ll experience pain and swelling in that area that can affect your range of motion and make it difficult to walk. After wearing a cast for an appropriate amount of time, your gait should return.
You might need physical therapy or even surgery to restore function to your muscles, bones, and nerves. Depending on the long-term effects on the way you walk and carry yourself, other parts of your body like your back or feet may need physical or occupational therapy.
Permanent, long-term abnormalities
There are gait abnormalities that are permanent and do not go away with treatment. Most of the time, these are associated with muscular neurological issues.
A few of the specific conditions that can lead to permanent gait changes include:
- Joint-related musculoskeletal conditions (e.g. arthritis)
- Physical deformities
- Spinal cord compression, infarction
- Brain hemorrhage
- Brain tumor
In addition, there are also myriad diseases and syndromes that list abnormal gait as a potential side effect. These include:
Most people who have long-term abnormal gait will require the use of an assistive device when they walk.
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Is your abnormal gait related to your service?
There are many service-related conditions that can lead to abnormal gait. Many of these are musculoskeletal in nature, including:
- Degenerative arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Decompression sickness (Caisson disease)
Other service-related conditions that may cause a permanent gait abnormality include:
- Physical deformities
- Myositis (muscle inflammation)
- Spinal cord injuries
Concerning spinal cord injuries, research shows there were roughly 4.4 instances of combat-related spinal trauma for every 10,000 soldiers during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Any of these can directly impact your physical and neurological function and lead to an abnormal gait.
In addition, there are even some diseases, including Parkinson’s Disease, that are linked to veterans exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during their military service.
If you had a normal gait before you entered the service and it’s now altered, think back to any illnesses you may have contracted during your time in service, along with any physical impact you experienced.
How does the VA rate abnormal gait and related injuries?
While an abnormal gait is not directly rated by the VA, the conditions behind it are. Let’s review a few of the most common ones, along with their associated ratings.
Limitation of motion: knee bone
Have you experienced a service-related injury to your knee? If so, your knee might be limited in extension and unable to straighten all the way. If so, the VA considers you to have limited motion of this joint.
If you can straighten it within 45 degrees of being completely straight, it is rated 50%. From there, the ratings are as follows:
- Straighten to 30 degrees: 40%
- Straighten to 20 degrees: 30%
- Straighten to 15 degrees: 20%
- Straighten to 10 degrees: 10%
- Straighten to 5 degrees: 0%
Limitation of motion: lower leg bone
If your time in the military caused you to experience an injury to the tibia or fibula bones in your lower leg, this also qualifies you for VA compensation. If it’s a complete break that cannot heal and requires a brace, then it is rated 40%.
If the break is not complete, but still causes serious problems, it’s rated at 30%. Subsequent ratings fall to 20% and 10% depending on how much the injury affected your knee or ankle joint.
Limitation of motion: hip and thigh
If you’ve sustained an injury or illness that causes limited range of motion in your hip or thigh, the degree to which you can move it will determine your VA rating.
If your hip has limited extension but is not frozen, the rating is 10%. The VA will consider how far forward (flexion) you can move your leg. If it is no more than 10 degrees, the rating is 40%.
Limitation of motion: knee or leg amputation
If you received an amputation at or below your knee, this can lead to an abnormal gait. In this case, the VA rating is linked to the location of the amputation, as well as the degree to which it affects your mobility.
For instance, if your leg is amputated at the knee but requires an additional, thigh-level amputation, the rating is 60%. The same applies if the amputation is at your knee but renders that bone unusable.
If the amputation occurs below your knee but does not fully impact mobility, the rating is 40%.
Arthritis is one of the more common musculoskeletal conditions associated with an abnormal gait.
The tricky thing to understand here is that limitation of motion is the most common rating for joint conditions. A condition cannot be classified as both. The only way to have your condition rated as degenerative arthritis is if it does not impede your range of motion enough to classify in that category.
If you do qualify in the arthritis category, consider the joints impacted by your arthritis that might be behind your abnormal gait.
Your hips, knees, and ankles are considered major joints. Your toe joints, spine, or sacroiliac joint are considered minor joints. If you have arthritis in two or more major or minor joint groups and the condition only occasionally incapacitates you, the rating is 20%.
Spinal cord suppression
As mentioned, spinal cord compression or infarction can damage your nerves and lead to changes in your gait.
This condition is known as spinal stenosis. As with other spinal cord injuries, your VA rating is tied to your degree of motion. If your flexion is 30 degrees or less, the rating is 40%.
Parkinson’s disease, Meniere’s disease, MS
In many cases, abnormal gait is a side effect of a debilitating disease, such as Parkinson’s, Meniere’s, or multiple sclerosis, among others.
Let’s begin with Parkinson’s Disease. This condition is not easy to find in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). It’s actually listed as Paralysis agitans.
The VA rating for this condition is 30%, but if you can prove that your service-related Parkinson’s Disease contributes to an abnormal gait, the rating can increase. For instance, you might be able to get a higher rating if the disease causes you to experience:
- Bradykinesia (slow movements)
- Postural instability
In a similar vein, the VA rating for MS is also 30%, though this rating can increase if you have secondary symptoms (such as a gait abnormality). At the same time, a rating for Meniere’s disease likewise begins at 30% but can go up to 60% and 100% depending on the frequency of your symptoms.
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Understanding your VA rating for abnormal gait
Do you suffer from an abnormal gait? If so, it can be difficult to determine exactly which VA rating category your condition falls into.
Since 1985, we’ve helped U.S. veterans living around the world fight for the benefits and compensation they deserve. Contact us today to discuss your claim. You won’t pay unless we win.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Since there isn’t a specific rating for limping, you’d want to focus on the injury to your knee. You may have ratings for your knee, hip, and back as secondary-connections. Talk to a lawyer to get the most out of all of that.
If you can keep a record of your symptoms, you’ll have a much better chance at your C&P Exam. The doctors understand that many symptoms and conditions have flare-ups and are not constant. We can help you request another C&P Exam to explain your case better.