The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Gait Analysis: Foot Problems and the Way You Move

Posted by on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

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You’ve probably met them–people who say, “Oh, I haven’t missed a day of running in ten years.” You say something like, “Me too. Well, of course, other than when I had that sprained ankle, and my bad knee, the shin splints, and then my plantar fasciitis…” So what does the other runner say? “Really? I’m never injured.”

Now let’s just throw out the possibility (probability?) that this paragon of running virtue may be lying and consider something that is quite true: some runners are injured more than others. Sometimes this is because of factors that are in their control–they don’t choose good shoes, they run on bad or dangerous surfaces, they don’t take care of their overall health. Other times, though, it has a lot more to do with something you can’t control–the way you are built or the way you move.

Enter gait analysis, or a professional study of the way you walk and run. A gait analysis can reveal foot problems that are contributing to your leg injuries, or leg issues that are causing foot trouble.

First, what do we mean when we say “gait?”

Gait is the way you move when you walk or run. It can be broken into two parts: stance and swing.

Stance includes:

  • Heel strike – when your heel hits the ground
  • Foot flat – when your whole foot is on the ground
  • Mid stance – when weight rolls from the back of the foot to the front
  • Toe off -when the toe pushes off to start forward movement

Swing includes:

  • Acceleration – from the toe push off to the point where your knee is flexed enough to clear the ground, or maximum knee flexion
  • Mid swing – the point from maximum knee flexion to the point where your tibia moves forward into a vertical position
  • Deceleration – from mid swing to the point right before your heel strikes the ground, which begins the stance phase

(Let’s put aside for the moment all discussions about whether you’re supposed to be striking with your heel, midfoot, or forefoot.)

When you walk, about 60% of your gait is the stance position; when you run, the percentage of the swing portion goes up, getting bigger and bigger as you run faster. Walking includes a “double stance phase,” where both feet are on the ground at the same time, while running includes a “flight phase,” where both feet are off the ground. (Aren’t feet amazing?!!)

Gait analysis can be done by a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900), a running coach, or in some of the better running stores  (sorry, there’s no phone or tablet app to figure it out for you yet, but maybe there will be). It can be as simple as a walk up and down a hall while a professional watches, or it can involve a quick session of walking or running on a treadmill that is videotaped.

So what does all this reveal? Gait analysis can show problems caused by foot shape or movement, such as flat feet, overpronation, or oversupination, or imbalances that can come from the way you’re built, such as having one hip higher than another, a pelvis that tilts too much in one direction, or an ankle that doesn’t flex upward enough. Imbalances can also be caused by muscles that are stronger on one side than the other, or  muscles that are too tight on one side.

After analyzing your gait, your podiatrist can assess your problem and decide on a treatment. Solutions may include:

  • Shoes specifically designed to help with overpronation or oversupination
  • Orthotics to give your foot stability and support
  • Exercises to help correct movement problems or bad habits
  • Stretching for overly tight muscles
  • Strengthening exercises to help even up strength between groups of muscles

It’s so frustrating if you’re someone who loves to run but you find yourself spending more time on an elliptical or bike due to injuries. If that’s been happening to you, don’t accept it–have your gait analyzed and see if there’s a simple fix that can get you back on the run!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.