Gait is the way in which we move our whole body from one point to another. Most often this is done by walking, although we may also run, skip, hop etc. Gait analysis is a method used to assess the way we walk or run to highlight biomechanical abnormalities.
What is Gait Analysis?
A professional, such as a physical therapist, usually performs gait analysis. The process usually involves walking or running on a treadmill. In some cases the professional will simply watch the way that you move, looking in particular at your feet, ankles, knees and hips. Video recordings will often be used to analyze your gait cycle. Video is helpful because it can pick up details that are unseen to the human eye. Other advantages of video recordings are the use of slow motion and freeze frames to assess your running or walking style.
The Gait Cycle in Walking and Running
The gait cycle is the continuous repetitive pattern of walking or running. The gait cycle is split into two main phases, stance and swing, with one complete gait cycle including both a stance and swing phase. The stance phase is the period where the foot is in contact with the ground and equates to 60% of the cycle when walking. The swing phases makes up the remaining 40%. During walking there is a period called double stance, where both feet are in contact with the ground. When running, a higher proportion of the cycle is swing phase as the foot is in contact with the ground for a shorter period. There is no double stance phase in running. Instead, there is a point where neither foot is in contact with the ground called the flight phase.
What are Biomechanical Abnormalities?
Being able to move efficiently is important in avoiding injuries. Having joints capable of providing sufficient movement and muscles capable of producing sufficient force is vital to generate an efficient gait cycle. If joints are stiff (usually caused by muscle tightness limiting joint motion) or muscles are weak, the body must find ways of compensating for the problem, leading to biomechanical abnormalities. Biomechanical problems are usually caused by muscular imbalances (tight muscles working against weak muscles), although they can sometimes be caused by structural problems, such as osteoarthritis.
Corrections to your Gait Cycle
Many injuries are often caused by poor mechanics and form during the activity. If it is found that there is an abnormality in your gait cycle, corrections can be made through improving joint range of motion, increasing muscular flexibility/strength, and modifications in walking/running form. This can be accomplished through individualized therapeutic exercises and manual therapy techniques prescribed/administered by your physical therapist. Direct Physical Therapy can provide clients with video gait analysis for walking and running.