What causes unsteady gait and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Walking is a fundamental activity that most people take for granted. However, for individuals with unsteady gait or walking difficulties, this simple task can become a significant challenge. Unsteady gait, also known as balance problems or mobility impairment, refers to a condition where a person experiences gait abnormalities or unbalanced walking. This can be caused by various factors, including impaired coordination and unsteadiness while walking. In this article, we will explore the causes of unsteady gait and discuss potential treatment options.

Causes of Unsteady Gait

Unsteady gait can be attributed to several underlying conditions or factors. Understanding the root cause is crucial in determining the appropriate treatment approach. Some common causes of unsteady gait include:

  • Neurological Disorders: Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and stroke can affect the brain’s ability to control movement and coordination, leading to an unsteady gait.
  • Muscle Weakness: Weakness in the muscles responsible for maintaining balance and stability can result in an unsteady gait. This weakness can be caused by conditions like muscular dystrophy or peripheral neuropathy.
  • Inner Ear Problems: The inner ear plays a vital role in maintaining balance. Any disruption in its function, such as an infection or damage to the vestibular system, can lead to unsteadiness while walking.
  • Medication Side Effects: Certain medications, such as those used to treat seizures or high blood pressure, can cause dizziness or unsteady gait as a side effect.
  • Joint or Bone Disorders: Conditions like arthritis or fractures can affect the joints and bones, making it difficult to walk steadily.

Treatment Options for Unsteady Gait

The treatment of unsteady gait depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Here are some common treatment options:

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in improving gait abnormalities and enhancing balance and coordination. A physical therapist can design a customized exercise program to strengthen the muscles, improve flexibility, and enhance overall stability. They may also incorporate specific techniques, such as gait training, to help individuals regain their ability to walk steadily.

Assistive Devices

Assistive devices can provide support and stability to individuals with unsteady gait. These devices include canes, walkers, or crutches, which help redistribute weight and improve balance while walking. In some cases, a healthcare professional may recommend the use of orthotic devices, such as braces or shoe inserts, to provide additional support.


In certain situations, medication may be prescribed to manage the underlying condition causing unsteady gait. For example, medications to control symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or reduce inflammation in arthritis can help improve gait abnormalities. However, it is essential to follow the prescribed dosage and consult a healthcare professional for proper medication management.

Surgical Intervention

In severe cases where other treatment options have not been effective, surgical intervention may be considered. This could involve procedures to correct joint or bone abnormalities, alleviate pressure on nerves, or address other underlying issues contributing to unsteady gait. Surgical options should be thoroughly discussed with a healthcare professional to understand the potential risks and benefits.

Prevention and Self-Care Tips

While not all causes of unsteady gait can be cured, there are steps individuals can take to manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Here are some prevention and self-care tips:

  • Exercise regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve strength, balance, and coordination.
  • Use assistive devices: If recommended by a healthcare professional, utilize assistive devices to provide support and stability while walking.
  • Ensure a safe environment: Remove tripping hazards, install handrails in staircases, and use non-slip mats to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Take medications as prescribed: If medication is part of the treatment plan, follow the prescribed dosage and schedule.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration can contribute to dizziness and unsteadiness. Drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day.
  • Get regular check-ups: Regular medical check-ups can help monitor the progress of the condition and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of treatment options may vary depending on the individual and the underlying cause of unsteady gait. Therefore, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment approach.

In conclusion, unsteady gait or walking difficulties can significantly impact an individual’s mobility and overall well-being. Understanding the causes and available treatment options is essential in managing this condition. By seeking appropriate medical care, following recommended treatment plans, and implementing preventive measures, individuals with unsteady gait can improve their ability to walk steadily and maintain an active lifestyle.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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