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Ask Dr. Choi: Why Do Legs Give Out Without Warning?

Learn about whether you need medical evaluation if your legs give out.

It is alarming to suddenly have your legs give out as you take a step. However, you might be surprised to learn that many adults experience sudden leg weakness, and it is not always a serious condition. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less alarming when it happens to you. Pain interventionalist Dr. Catherine Choi talks about the frequency of leg weakness. And she reviews some of the medical conditions that can cause your legs to suddenly give out.

How frequently do adults experience leg weakness?

“Having legs give out is relatively common among adults,” explains Dr. Choi. “One research study reported that almost 12 percent of adults age 36 to 94 experienced at least one knee-buckling episode in a three-month period. The study notes that people experience temporary leg weakness regardless of fitness level.”

Dr. Choi explains that legs can give out for a number of different reasons. In some cases, the cause is temporary and not worrisome. But in other cases, a collapsing leg is a symptom of a serious underlying medical issue.

Minor conditions that can make your legs give out

“A wide range of conditions can cause temporary leg weakness,” says Dr. Choi. “If you have any concerns, of course we are happy to see you at Summit for an evaluation. But I think it’s also helpful to understand the circumstances that might make your legs give out. Let’s start with some of the benign reasons that legs give out as well as conditions that increase the risk of joint instability.”

Traumatic injuries that can make your legs give out

“Legs can collapse as the result of a traumatic injury,” notes Dr. Choi. “Injuries can trigger immediate leg disfunction. But in other cases, untreated damage may increase over time before affecting leg stability.”

Spine-related conditions that cause legs to give out

“The nerves that run along the spinal column connect our extremities to our brain,” says Dr. Choi. “Because the nerves in the spine carry messages to our extremities, we sometimes find that leg dysfunction is related to spine damage affecting these nerves.”

Treatment for this condition

Medical treatment for buckling legs will depend on the cause and seriousness of the condition. Treatment options range from rest, ice, compression, and elevation for minor injuries to brace and bandage support, physical therapy, or surgery for severe or chronic leg problems.

“If your legs give out, but you recover quickly, you may not need to go straight to the doctor,” says Dr. Choi. “However, whenever leg dysfunction includes severe pain that does not improve and continues for a few days, difficulty using stairs, ongoing inability to perform daily activities, or redness and fever, it’s time to make an appointment with your spine specialist.”

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise

Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.

Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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