One of the biggest parts of curriculum in physical therapy school is gait assessment, which is essentially looking at how people walk. The way a person walks can affect many different parts of the body, and cause pain or stiffness originating anywhere from the ankles to the low back.
The Normal Stride
A normal walking pattern involves a stride where your heel is the first thing to touch the ground, with just a little bit of toe out (your toes point slightly out rather than completely straight). Typically, the outside of the heel is first thing to hit, and then as your foot goes to flat you roll from the outside of the foot to pushing off primarily at the inside of the forefoot (behind the first toe) as you your foot leaves the ground.
The knees should remain in alignment with your toes, without crashing inwards or outwards. At the point of foot contact the knee should be nearly straight, and as you foot goes to flat there should be some bending to allow cushioning as that leg accepts all of the body weight.
At the hips and pelvis, there shouldn’t be a big drop on the opposite side of the leg that’s in contact with the ground, as both hips should remain relatively at the same height.
Higher up, at the trunk level, there should be a rotation towards the side of the leg in contact with the ground. This is primarily accomplished by an arm swing forward slightly across the body, on the side opposite of the leg in contact with the ground.
If it sounds complex, well, it is! There are a lot of different things that can go wrong that leads to problems, from stiffness not allowing necessary motion at joint, to post-operative weakness, pain and poor muscle activation resulting in a notable limp.
The good news is that a physical therapist can help you get back to a normal pattern, no matter where the limitation may be coming from. The skilled therapists at OSI can perform a gait assessment, perform manual therapy to return motion to normal limits, and teach you exercises to get you back to walking the dog, doing your grocery shopping, or just getting out and enjoying recreational walking during the warm summer months!