We don’t even remember when we learned how to do it originally, but we have been doing it for years. Walking takes us from our bedroom to the kitchen, from our car to the grocery store, from the base of a mountain to the top!
Have you ever watched how people walk? As a physical therapist, I do this all the time. There are the obvious abnormalities with walking — someone limping, on crutches, or perhaps using a walker after surgery. However, there are also “tip-toe” walkers, “Donald Duck” walkers, “whipped pup” walkers (walking with their tail between their legs). The list is endless depending on how people hold their body, how their muscles work together, if they are in pain, and what their feet are doing when they walk.
We all know that when our feet, legs or back hurts, it can affect how we walk. It is a problem that many people experience in their lifetime. Physical therapists specialize in helping people “walk out of the pain” by looking at the strength of the muscles, how the joints are moving, the person’s posture and motivation to feel better.
Although people have their own individual nuances with walking, there are some very specific phases of walking (gait) that are important in order to maintain the best technique possible. These are divided into four different stages in the gait pattern: heelstrike, midstance, toe off and swing phase.
Heelstrike is when your heel initially touches the ground. The outside, furthest back part of the heel connects with the floor and our foot is positioned in a high arch position in order to land on a firm surface. The higher arch position is referred to as foot supination.
Midstance is when we transition from heelstrike to our body moving forward over our foot. The knee straightens out completely and we are standing right over the top of our foot and ankle. The foot softens and the arch will slightly drop into foot pronation. This is necessary to absorb the shock of that leg and foot fully impacting on the ground.
Toe off is when the body has moved forward from the leg, the hip extends backward, the knee bends slightly, our foot moves back into a more rigid state (foot supination) and we are ready to push off to propel the body forward. The supinated foot position gives us more power to push forward off the ball of the foot between the great toe and the second toe.
Swing phase occurs when we are moving the leg in the air between toe off and heelstrike and swinging it to the front position compared to the other leg. This is when there is no weight being put through the leg.
Sometimes it is necessary to adjust something that is happening in phases of walking to make it easier or to have less pain. Our shoewear that supports our foot and ankle is also an important component of how we walk. Michelle McCormick, PT wrote a blog on how to analyze if your shoewear may be contributing to discomfort when you are walking.
Physical therapy can be an answer to your walking difficulties. Trained analysis and suggestions can make a world of difference so that you are able to get back out there and actively walk through the world we live in — pain free!