Walking: Determining if Our Steps are Causing Our Pain

If you have pain in your feet, ankles, knees or low back, read this article about walking. A proper gait analysis can give vital information about your body and areas that may need to be fixed.

When walking, or frantically running through the store aisles during this Christmas season, take a moment to pay attention to the way you are walking. Are you leaning to one side more than the other? Are your feet hitting the ground the same way, or are you favoring one leg more than the other, maybe because of a post Black Friday ‘war’ injury? Whatever the case may be, many of us take walking for granted and if we get a little pain, we usually just disregard it and hope it will go away, which in most cases can lead to a bigger problem to fix in the future. In many cases, this pain may be the first indicator that something might be wrong either within a joint or muscle within your body. 

  On a basic level, gait is broken down into two phases, which are the ‘swing phase’, which is where the foot is in the air, and the ‘stance phase’, where the foot is making contact with the ground. The ‘stance phase’ takes up about 60% of the gait cycle and the ‘swing phase’ takes up about 40%. The ‘stance phase’ is then broken down in to 5 sub-phases, which are heel-strike, early flat-foot, late flat-foot, heel rise and toe off. Every phase serves a specific purpose that will lead to the propulsion of the body forward, with the most efficient use of our body's energy. If something is dysfunctional within one of these phases, certain muscles must work harder and others will become inactive. In addition, if the joints of your foot and ankle aren’t aligned properly, stresses are going through soft tissues structures improperly and can actually lead to tissue failure. 

  When analyzing gait, trained professionals should observe the person from the front, from the back, and from the side. There are a few things that trained practitioners look for in each plane of motion and based upon what they observe, they get a clinical picture of what has gone wrong in your kinetic chain. For example, if you look at a person from the front and their head is “bopping” up and down, the individual most likely has tight calf musculature on the side causing the “bopping” up. In addition, if the person’s hips move side to side when they walk, there is most likely a weakness in stabilizing hip musculature. These are only a couple of examples of dysfunctional patterns. Most people are truly impressed by about how many motor patterns problems can be observed by just watching someone walk. 

  To put all this information into perspective, keep in mind that the average person takes 7,000 steps in a day. If there is a dysfunctional motor pattern or joint instability, the imbalance of forces going through your joints has the potential to causes some serious damage in the soft tissue structures of your body, such as the muscles, ligaments, and cartilage. This potential for injury becomes magnified if you are an avid runner, walker, or cyclist. If you have had pain that doesn’t seem to be going away, find a clinic that will be able analyze your gait and develop a plan specific to you. This is well worth looking into to get you through the remainder of the Christmas season and put you on the right track for your New Year’s resolutions. 


Dr. Cynthia VanSickler, D.C.

Lake Marion Chiropractic Center

9202 202nd Street West, Suite 203

Lakeville, MN 55044

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jim Guttmann December 14, 2012 at 02:06 AM
What role do shoes play in altering our natural gait? Can they sometimes be the cause of dysfunctional patterns and improper stresses like those described here?


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