Why Do I Waddle When I Walk? --- Causes
and Cures

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Last updated May 22, 2017

By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Registered Nurses,
Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial Board.]









This week I met two friends for lunch, Bill and Karen, whom I
had not seen for about 15 years. Bill recently had retired and he
and Karen were about to start to fulfill some long-awaited plans
to travel.  I was first to arrive at the restaurant  so I saw them
coming in. Karen looked about the same. But Bill was clearly
different. The first thing I noticed was his walking. Bill, once a
player on his high school basketball team, now waddled, rocking
from side to side as he walked.


Bill waddled so severely that he looked as though he was going
to tip over on one side just before he shifted back to the other
side. He walked like a penguin, almost tilting over on one side
and then the other. Penguins are cute but no one wants to walk
like one. What had happened? Why do we start to waddle on as
we age?  Are there any natural remedies that can prevent this
waddling walk?





What Makes People Waddle As They Walk?


There are several different muscular, neurological and skeletal
deficits that can cause a waddling gait.

Essentially, waddling gait is a compensation for these deficits.


Waddling is the way our bodies respond to these deficits in order
to maintain our balance and avoid falling


As we age, all of us experience gradual declines in our
musculature, strength and balance. These declines can be so
gradual that you do not notice them. For example, scientists
estimate that we lose approximately 1% of our muscle strength
per decade up until age 40, and 2 to 3% each decade after 50.




Waddling occurs with falling competence in walking. It turns out
that walking upright on two legs is not a simple feat to
accomplish.  To walk, our bodies must coordinate or neurological
systems, cardiovascular systems and our musculo-skeletal
systems.

To put it another way, walking we must synchronize the mind,
the heart, the muscles and the bones.



A deficit in any one of these systems will throw off your ability to
walk.



Hip Weakness Is a Key Cause of Waddling




























Do you have trouble standing up after sitting in a chair? If you
do, this may indicate a weakness in what doctors call your "hip
girdle".  

Both a weak hip girdle and upper thigh muscles can cause
instability of your pelvis when you stand or walk, and result in
waddling, according to a 2017 study led by Dr. Walter Pirker of
the Medical University of Vienna.


Waddling is caused by a weakness in the "gluteus medius
muscle".  This weakness makes the hip on the side of the
swinging leg drop with each step you take.

Other secondary muscles in your hip needed to support the
motion of walking and your balance are your gluteus maximus
and hip flexors. You need your gluteus maximus muscles to
stabilize your posture when you are upright. You need your hip
flexors to move your leg up toward your chest when you are
walking.



How to Strengthen Your Gluteus Medius to Stop Waddling


The gluteus medius is the weakest muscle in your lower body. It
is the weakest because it is small and it is difficult to isolate it
when you exercise.

One of the classic exercises for strengthening your gluteus
medius are side planks. If fact, if you find it difficult to do side
planks, it means that your gluteus medius luscles are weak.

Aim to do 3  sets of 10 side planks  per side  at least 3 times per
week. Start off very slowly, doing only what you can do under
control and without strain. If that means you can only do one rep
to start, that's fine. Take your time and be patient with your body.



Write down how many side planks you are able to complete
under control and without strain.  Then, each week, chart your
progress.  Again, it is not necessary to increase the number of
side planks each week.


How to Strengthen Your Gluteus Maximus to Stabilize Your
Upright Posture


Your gluteus maximus are the largest muscles of your backside.
They are the tear drop shaped muscles that define your bottom.

To strengthen, these muscles, you can do squats or walk up
stairs. Aim to walk at least two flights of stairs daily. Or, do 3 sets
of 8 to 1à squats at least 3 times per week.

The key to making safe progress is to listen carefully to your
body as you exercise. Start with a small target, say, one or two
squats every other day. When these become too easy, go to 4
squats, three times a week. Write down how many squats you do
each tile and track your progress. Remember, this is not a race --
It's a journey.



Practice Standing on One Leg to Stop Waddling


If you break down the mechanics of walking into phases, you will
find that about 60% of the time you are standing on one leg as
you walk.  During this phase in which you are balanced on one
leg, your hips are kept level by your strong gluteus medius
muscles.  

But if your hip muscles are weak, you will tilt when you are in the
phase where you're standing on one leg.  This imbalanced
posture while standing on one leg is called the "Trendelenburg
sign" and it's a classic feature of a waddling gait. If you take a
look at the picture of the penguin on this page, you'll see that he
is on one leg and he's almost tilted over.

This peculiar posture of the hips was named after the scientist
who discovered it, Dr. Friedrich Trendelenburg of Germany.

When you are in the one leg standing phase of walking, all your
body weight is carried by one leg, and one hip. in fact, during
this phase, the actual load is Three times your body weight.

Weak hip abductors will make it painful or impossible to hold this
stance long enough to let you walk smoothly.


To remedy the problem, you should practice standing on one leg.
Aim to stand on one leg for 30 seconds at least 3 times per week,
perhaps on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


Lose Weight to Make Standing on One Leg Easier and Prevent
Waddling



Because you transfer 3 times your body weight on one leg for
60% of the time you're walking, being overweight makes it
extremely difficult to walk properly.  In other words, if you weigh
150 pounds, your hips experience carrying 450 pounds of weight
with each step.

Losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight will greatly reduce
the total weight your hips must carry, especially during the one-
leg standing phase of walking.

Let's take an example; If you weigh 150 pounds and you manage
to lose 15 pounds, you will carry 45 pounds less on each hip
during the one-leg standing phase. The average American takes
only 5,117 steps per day, according to a study led by Dr. David R.
Bassett of the University of Tennessee Obesity Research Center.
So, if you lose 15 pounds, you will carry a 230,000 lighter hip
load per day. Is it any wonder why hip replacements are so
common?

The bottom line is that our hips were designed to carry a human
at a normal body weight.  They were not designed to carry a
human who is 2 or 3 times a normal body weight. Our hips so an
amazing job of supporting us, especially during the time when
we are standing on one leg as we walk. Make it a little easier on
them by losing weight and you could very well be on your wade
to curing your waddling problem.


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