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What our walking says about our muscles and joints

Walking Day with LSTC

By: Mike Bills, MS PT

When an expert assesses your walking they are looking at what referred to as your gait. This term “gait” takes into account what all of the joints in your legs and also your trunk are doing when you move one leg and stand on the other for support. Any change in your walking pattern can cause a problem in any part of your body, even if that problem seems to be isolated to just one body part.

For example, pain in your heel such as plantar fasciitis could be coming from someone striking with their heel too aggressively or if someone has weakness in their hip muscles. The list of possible causes for a pain or problem in any area of your body related to walking is endless and requires a thorough assessment of your gait to determine the ultimate causes. Typically, physical therapists will find that someone who is experiencing problems or pain with walking have multiple things going on with their walking pattern that need to be addressed.

Another problem that often needs to be addressed when there is a problem with walking is the risk of falling. This is not just with the older population. When your gait or walking pattern is off for some reason, your body has had to compensate in other ways. This throws off your center of gravity, thus making it easier for you to trip and potentially fall. Any slight change to your gait whether that’s due to pain, weakness or poor mechanics can cause changes elsewhere in your body. This reduces your balance. Think about a time you’ve ever caught your foot on a curb or stepped off a stair improperly. Perhaps you turned your ankle and fallen or almost fallen. This is due to some change in your gait. That change in your gait coming to the last step or stepping off the curb could be the result of weak ankle muscles, weak knee muscles, tight leg muscles or too much forward bend at your waist fir example. A physical therapist, being a movement specialist, is able to easily spot any subtle changes to someone’s walking pattern that can create these issues and lead to potential falls and ankle sprains.

Whether you are thinking of starting a walking program or even currently walking for exercise on a daily basis, or you have pain or difficulty walking during the day consider the following statement:  “pain is not a normal thing.”  If there is pain or difficulty of any kind anywhere when you are walking, this is a warning sign to tell you that something is off in your gait that needs immediate attention. If you catch your feet more than two times during the day, this is a warning sign that something is off in your gait that needs immediate attention. If you have pain that lasts more than eight hours after a long walk or prolonged standing, this is a sign that something is wrong with your gait. If your body is working properly and your gait is good, you should be pain and symptom-free from even the most vigorous and lengthy walk. But if the next day you are stiff, sore, have to walk slower, etc. this is a sign that while you were walking earlier, something was off with your gait that needs immediate attention before it turns into a bigger problem; and this can happen very quickly.

Walking is a daily part of life so it’s important to have a good understanding of the anatomy of walking and what needs to happen so that we can make sure we are moving properly and not causing problems. Call our office TODAY at 703-450-4300 if you have any questions or if you are having problems with walking. 

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