There are many reasons a person might walk with a limp, and leg muscle weakness is one of the main culprits. In these cases, the best way to get rid of a limp is with strengthening exercises.
See a doctor or physical therapist to determine the underlying cause of your limp prior to performing exercises. As discussed in an October 2016 article published by Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift, injuries and conditions such as neurological diseases, brain injury, bone fracture, arthritis, ligament or labral tear or leg-length discrepancy can all lead to limping, and require more in-depth treatment than basic strengthening exercises.
Limping is often caused by weakness of the muscles of your pelvis, such as two of your three gluteus muscles — maximus and medius. A variety of hip-strengthening exercises, such as those listed at ExRx.net, target the glutes. Hold the end position for two to three seconds before returning to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions of each exercise, working up to three sets in a row.
1. Gluteus Maximus Exercises
When your gluteus maximus is weak, you will typically lurch your upper body backward when you step on the weak leg.
Move 1: Supine Bridge
- Lie on the floor with your arms resting next to your body. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground.
- Squeeze your buttocks and press down through your heels as you lift your hips off the ground. You might notice the weaker side lagging behind, causing your pelvis to drop. Focus on keeping your pelvis as level as possible.
As strength improves, try holding your strong leg off the ground and bridging just with the weaker leg.
Move 2: Prone Hip Extension
- Lie face down on the floor, or a firm surface. Keep your legs straight throughout this exercise.
- Squeeze your buttocks and lift your weak leg up toward the ceiling as high as possible, without letting your hips leave the ground.
Move 3: Standing Hip Extension
- Stand with your nonaffected leg next to a small step. Place your foot on the step so that your weak leg is suspended in the air.
- Place your hands on your hips, or hold a rail for support.
- Point your toes toward the ceiling and squeeze your buttock muscles, lifting your leg straight out behind you. Keep your knee straight throughout the movement, and do not bend forward at your waist.
As strength improves, perform hip extension with a cuff weight or a resistance band looped around your ankle.
Move 4: Standing Hip Circles
- Stand on your unaffected leg on a small step. Place your hands on your hips.
- Keeping your pelvis level, make small clockwise circles with your weak leg.
- Repeat in the opposite direction.
Make this exercise more difficult by increasing the size of your leg circles.
2. Gluteus Medius Exercises
A weak gluteus medius causes a gait deviation, or limp, called the Trendelenburg gait. This weakness causes the hip on the opposite side to drop when you lift your foot off the ground. In some cases, you might notice that you lean your upper body over the weak side to keep this from happening. This muscle is strengthened with hip abduction exercises, as demonstrated by Princeton University Athletic Medicine.
Move 1: Side-Lying Hip Abduction
- Lie on your strong side, legs stacked on top of each other, on a firm surface.
- Keeping your knee straight, lift your top leg up toward the ceiling as far as possible. Your toes should be pointed forward throughout the movement.
Make this exercise harder by adding a cuff weight to your ankle.
Move 2: Side-Lying Hip Circles
- Lie on your side as previous. Lift your top leg up toward the ceiling.
- Circle your leg forward 10 times, then backward 10 times. As strength improves, increase the size of these circles.
Move 3: Clamshells
- Lie on your strong side with your legs stacked and knees bent to 90 degrees.
- Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee toward the ceiling.
Progress this movement by looping an exercise band just above your knees or by holding your bottom knee off the ground as you lift the top knee. Keep your feet together while they are off the ground.
Move 4: Standing Hip Abduction
- Stand on the edge of a small step, on your strong leg. Put your hands on your hips.
- Keeping your toes pointed forward, lift your weak leg out to the side as far as possible. Stand up straight — do not allow your upper body to tip or lean over to the side.
Add a cuff weight to this exercise for a greater challenge, or try using a resistance band.
Move 5: Standing Hip Hikes
- Stand on your strong leg on the side of a step.
- Drop your hip on the weak side so that your foot is just below the edge of the step.
- Keeping your knee straight, hike your weak hip up as high as possible, then slowly lower back down.
Read more: Exercises to Isolate the Gluteus Minimus
3. Knee Extension Exercises
Weakness in the quadriceps muscles that straighten your knee can lead to a limping gait. Strengthening exercises for the quads can help.
Move 1: Seated Knee Extension
- Sit on a firm chair with your feet on the floor.
- Straighten your knee and hold for two to three seconds, then lower back down.
- Add cuff weights to your ankle for increased resistance.
Move 2: Mini-Squats
Stand next to a chair or other sturdy object if needed for balance during this exercise.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Sit your butt back and hinge forward at your hips as if you are going to sit in a chair. Keep your chest up as you move.
- Bend your knees and squat down approximately 45 degrees. Push your knees apart as you squat.
- Squeeze your quads and glutes and stand back up.