Analyzing Your Gait May Eliminate Your Foot Pain
No two people walk exactly alike.
Sure, most of us go through the same basic “phases” of the walking gait. To a casual observer, there’s not usually much difference from person to person.
But when you look closely, you’ll start to see minute variations in things like stride length, step frequency (cadence), which exact part of the heel strikes the ground first, how far the foot pronates (that is, how far the foot rolls inward under weight bearing), which toes are doing most of the work during push-off … you get the idea.
Very small variations in these things are usually nothing to worry about. However, if your foot shape or gait mechanics deviate too far from a “normal,” neutral stride, you can start to become more susceptible to things like heel pain, shin splints, stress fractures, bunions, and other deformities or sports injuries.
These problems aren’t limited to your feet, either. If your feet and ankles are out of alignment, chances are your knees, hips, and back will be too in order to compensate for your shaky foundation. That leads to pain and fatigue throughout your entire body.
If you are currently in pain, and it’s keeping you from being as active as you’d like, it’s very possible your gait mechanics are at least partially to blame. Fortunately, the team at Waco Foot & Ankle can analyze the way you walk—in other words, perform a gait analysis—to help develop effective treatment options.
Explaining the Gait Cycle
First question: what is a gait cycle?
The short answer is that it’s just one complete cycle of the entire sequence of motions that your foot performs when you walk. Or in other words, everything that happens between the point at which your heel touches the ground, and the next time that heel touches the ground.
There are a couple of different ways that podiatrists and other biomechanics experts break up and classify the components of the gait cycle. Some of them get really complicated!
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll categorize it like this:
- Heel strike. As you might imagine, it’s the moment your heel hits the ground. Typically the knee is fully extended, the hip is flexed 30 degrees, and the foot is at a 25 degree angle to the ground.
- Loading response (“foot flat”). The rest of your foot follows the heel to the ground, and the arch flexes to absorb the impact forces. Optimal pronation (inward rolling of the foot) should cap at about 15 degrees.
- Midstance. During the midstance, the opposite foot takes off and all your weight has been loaded onto the reference. The foot must keep the body balanced and aligned as weight continues to move forward.
- Heel off. By the time your body weight is centered over the ball of your foot, the heel should start to come off the ground. The knee flexes, and the foot supinates (that is, unwinds from its pronated position).
- Toe off. The moment that your foot completely leaves the ground. In a normal pronating foot, you should feel the “push off” most prominently in your big toe. Those who overpronate might push off almost exclusively from the big toe, while those who under-pronate might do so from the smaller toes.
- Swing phase. Your foot swings forward in the air until the heel sets down again and the cycle repeats. We actually break this phase down even further, observing what the hips and knees are doing during the early, mid, and late swing stages.
And this is just the simplified version of the gait cycle! At each phase, there are multiple muscle groups, joints, tendons, and other structures working in coordination with one another to make the whole process as smooth and pain-free as possible.
Plus, we haven’t even mentioned the upper body at all—and as you know, locomotion is a whole-body affair! Your arms, torso, and head get into the act as well, even more so if you are running.
So What Can Go Wrong?
As you can see, if even a few components of the gait cycle are “off” by a little bit, it can throw everything out of whack. Since, under normal circumstances, phases of the gait cycle move smoothly from one to the next, a foot flaw (for example) that, say, prevents efficient weight loading can have repercussions throughout the entire cycle.
For example, things like:
- Foot deformities
- Overly flexible arches/overpronation
- Extremely rigid, high arches/underpronation
- Leg length discrepancies
- Reduced joint range of motion in the ankles, knees, or hips (due to injury, arthritis, previous surgery, lack of conditioning, etc.)
- Muscle weakness
… can all impair healthy gait biomechanics, and start to cause painful issues throughout your feet and body.
And as we said in the introductory section, abnormal gait mechanics can lead to all sorts of problems. Heel pain and sports injuries are particularly common, but certainly not the only examples.
Getting Your Gait Back on Track
Certain gait problems—for example, those that stem from a bad hip—fall outside the purview of a podiatric physician.
However, a lot of the most common gait problems center around foot structure and the motion of the arches and ankles. Those are problems we are especially well equipped to help you with!
During your appointment, we’ll analyze your gait by watching and even recording your feet and ankles as you walk, observing how they move and behave. (This is, of course, in addition to a full physical examination, as well as any diagnostic testing that may be necessary.)
We’d also love it if you can bring in one or more old pairs of shoes for us to examine. Sometimes we identify likely problems with pronation, heel strike, or other issues simply by observing the wear patterns on your treads!
In most cases, the best way to deal with a foot structure or biomechanics problem identified in your gait analysis is with custom orthotics. These are shoe inserts specially made with your foot in mind, and they help support your arches and feet with the exact kind of cushioning and support they need, in exactly the right places.
If it helps, you can think of orthotics like being the “glasses” of the feet. With the right prescription, a pair of glasses can help someone with even very poor eyesight see clearly. Likewise, a carefully designed functional orthotic can allow a foot with significant gait problems to move, pronate, and bear weight effectively and maintain proper alignment throughout the gait cycle. That means less pain and fewer injuries!
We use an advanced process to make sure our custom orthotics are as precisely tuned as possible for the needs of our patients. We’ll make sure your feet are set in the most biomechanically appropriate position, then use high-resolution 3D photography and scanning to make the perfect mold for your feet.
Here’s Dr. Townson showing how it’s done!
If you’re dealing with foot pain that you can’t explain, or quickly get fatigued or sore in your feet and legs with exercise, gait mechanics may well be to blame.
Either way, your best choice is to come see us at Waco Foot & Ankle. We’re here to help you understand the root causes of your pain and develop the right set of steps to correct them. Call our office in Woodway today at (254) 776-6995, or connect with us using our online contact form.
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201 Colonnade Parkway, Suite #100
Woodway, TX 76712