Gait is a fancy word for someone’s walking pattern. A gait cycle starts from the second one foot hits the ground, to when that same foot cycles through and contacts the ground again. Your gait can be changed by a lot of different factors. Pain, muscle weakness/ tightness, injury, casts /braces, or even just how your bones are formed can change your gait pattern.
The gait cycle is broken up into two parts:
1. Stance Phase
First is the stance phase, where one foot is in contact with the ground. This part takes 60% of the whole cycle, which makes us understand how important it is to be able to stand on one foot!
2. Swing Phase
The second part is the swing phase, the part where the leg is moving forward in space. The body will adapt in many ways to alter these phrases to avoid pain and discomfort.
Causes of Abnormal Gait
- Abnormal gait can lead to injury. Any time you walk incorrectly certain muscles will work harder than they need to. When muscles are overworking it can lead to differences in strength and also bring about pain. Overworking muscles can also cause your joints to move out of place or start to wear down quicker than normal. Weak muscles will cause more stress and strain on areas that aren't used to it.
- Abnormal gait can also be caused by an injury. For example, when you strain a muscle or sprain a ligament in your leg you will start to walk differently to avoid the pain. If you are using crutches or other walking aids in an incorrect pattern that can also cause a change in your gait pattern.
- People with osteoarthritis in their knees or hips, rheumatoid arthritis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, Achilles tendinosis, or low back pain will alter their gait pattern to avoid pain. People may change their walking pattern as quickly as the second an injury occurs. However, gait changes can also happen slowly over time as chronic conditions or injuries start to worsen.
- Sometimes abnormal gait patterns may be due to how you were born or how you have always walked. If you don’t walk in a necessarily “correct pattern”, but have no pain, you may not need to change the way you walk. However, pain may creep up if you want to start something new, like a new sport or activity. That’s when a physiotherapist may be a good idea to assess how you are walking.
So why does my physiotherapist watch me walk?
Physiotherapists have been trained to pick up on subtle muscle imbalances by watching you walk. Once the physiotherapist knows why you are walking the way you are, they can give you exercises to help improve your walking pattern and help get rid of your pain. Your physiotherapist will give you exercises to stretch tight muscles, strengthen weak muscles, and also ways to help your balance. All of these exercises will improve your walking ability and hopefully get rid of your pain.
Who knew walking could be so complicated?