Gait Analysis: Why The Way You Walk Matters And Why You Should Improve It
Posted by Jenn F. on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
Feet are made to absorb the shock of each step we take and to minimize the stress on our bodies. The foot is flexible and adaptable to navigate different types of terrain with stable and solid propulsion. The foot must be ready to rotate, accelerate, decelerate and take a beating all day, every day, in order to prevent disability. So it’s pretty crazy that people take their feet for granted and don’t bother to assess their situation from the ground up, isn’t it? The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine performs gait analysis on runners, athletes, and everyday people who wonder if they are walking with the best possible step and posturing to prevent injury.
Why Foot Flexibility Matters
Arthritis sufferers may find that their feet do not bend enough, thus hindering their gait. People recovering from injury and coming out of casts may find that they have back stiffness and knee pain as a result of their impaired manner of walking for months. That is why we typically send patients through physical therapy once a cast or boot comes off. More commonly, though, people suffer from too much mobility in the feet, which is what we’ll focus on here.
Pes planus, also known as “fallen arches,” refers to the flattened appearance of the foot while standing. Hyperpronation refers to a very common condition (present in as much as 67% of all people) where the inward motion of the ankle bone is excessive, causing a person to talk on the inside of the foot. Both of these problems occur when there is too much flexibility in the foot and ankle, and the resulting issues are extensive.
According to a study by JF Yale, health problems from flat foot and hyperpronation include:
– Achilles tendinitis
– Lumbosacral muscle spasms
– Patellofemoral syndrome
– Temporomandibular joint syndrome
– Tibialis anterior overuse (anterior shin splints), and
– Tibialis posterior overuse (posterior shin splints).
What We Can Tell From The Three Gait Phases
During gait analysis, we look at several different aspects of your regular walking pattern:
– Heel strike: When there is excessive foot flexibility, the impact of walking is not processed by the heel and ankle joint as it’s supposed to — but, rather, travels into the lower leg and causes shin splints. The force of a heel strike travels up the entire body within 10 milliseconds and registers a 0.5 G impact in the skull. Think of it this way: a 160-pound man is essentially being struck in the head by 80 pounds with each step. Running multiplies this effect three times. So it’s not hard to imagine why runners suffer all the way in their knees, back, shoulders and neck.
– Flat foot phase: As the entire foot makes contact with the ground, it ideally supports the pelvis and the spine. Pronation is a good thing, as it accommodates to different types of ground and helps us absorb shock. However, an overly flexible foot remains in the flat footed position for too long, without allowing the tendons to spring back immediately, thus stretching out the plantar fascia and causing tremendous heel pain (plantar fasciitis), interdigital neuroma, or bunion deformity.
– Toe push off: Finally, the force reaches the toe, which propulses us to the next phase of walking. The foot naturally becomes more rigid during this stage. However, this motion can be compromised if the joints are too stiff or if the plantar fascia is weakened. Feet that can’t push off effectively often roll outward, which causes bunion deformity or osteoarthritis — particularly in the big toe. Furthermore, poor propulsion causes back pain and creates more work for the individual, especially during sports.
Gait Analysis Sets You On The Path Toward A Balanced Future
Once we determine any gait abnormalities, we can set to work correcting them. Often, custom shoe inserts work wonders at restoring balance. Other times, temporary casting or a small surgical procedure is recommended. It all depends on your unique situation. People are consistently amazed at how a little TLC for the feet has ramifications all the way through the knee, spine and neck. By providing support through each gait cycle, we can ensure optimal musculoskeletal function and limit our risk for injury or disability substantially.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. 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.