Knowing Your Walk (and if it Needs Correction)

by | Dec 8, 2017

As we grow and develop from infancy on, humans learn to perform a variety of tasks in the best possible manner. When physical limitations or abnormalities inhibit us from doing activities in a “normal” fashion, we tend to compensate for them in various ways to accomplish whatever task we are trying to accomplish – even for something as simple as walking.

Sometimes, these compensations might be minor in and of themselves, but still have a powerful impact on the body. Such can be the case for the biomechanical processes you use to walk.

Now, we mention the term “biomechanical” and this might sound very technical, but it’s easy to understand when you break it down into its two parts – bio (“life”) and mechanics (“movement”). A biomechanical process is something a living being—like you!—uses to move.

So how does this relate to the importance of knowing your walking style, and whether or not it needs correction?

Well, the human body is interconnected and every part can affect other parts. If you combine this interconnected nature with the frequency of use, your foot structure and gait pattern becomes very important.

Regarding “frequency of use,” take just a moment right now and think about how often you walk during the course of an average day, even going from room to room in your home. You might not realize it, but all of that walking adds up to about 10,000 steps (for an average person on an average day). Naturally, if you go for a walk to exercise or spend a day walking around the Milwaukee County Zoo, your step count is going to be higher.

There is one more issue at play – the amount of force humans place on our lower limbs.

With every step you take while walking, you place somewhere between 2-4 times your bodyweight on the landing foot. If you run, that number jumps up to as high as 7 times!

The reason we don’t all suffer greatly when walking and running from all of that force is the fact feet are typically structured to handle the force loads. Any variances or irregularities, however, can impact their ability to do so.

Let’s step back for just a moment and recap:

  • The human body is highly connected.
  • We use our feet a lot.
  • Walking and running place extra force on our feet.
  • A normally-structured foot can handle the excessive force loads.

The problem is – not everyone’s feet are “normally-structured.”

Family Walking through Nature

Feet are complicated structures, containing hundreds of different parts. This provides a lot of room for natural variance. One specific area where there can be a lot of variance is with arch height.

Foot arches play a key role in a biomechanical process your feet go through with every step – pronation. This is an inward rolling motion of about fifteen percent the foot uses to assist in absorbing and equally distributing those physical forces accompanying every step.

Moderate arches are most efficient for pronation.

Unfortunately, high and low foot arches are fairly common. This is a problem because individuals with low foot arches—and especially those who have flatfoot—tend to pronate excessively (overpronate). People with high arches do the opposite (supinate).

Overpronation and supination lead to various issues, respectively. Runners who overpronate are more likely to develop bunions and plantar fasciitis, while those who supinate have increased risk for stress fractures and shin splints. Either biomechanical abnormality can lead to increased risk of pain and other issues going up into the knees, hips, and lower back.

Given that everything is connected, a gait analysis is a valuable tool to assess what is actually happening when you experience pain or discomfort from running or walking. This process is simply one of our doctors performing a careful, professional observation of your stride, and specifically the strike of your foot through the final push off (the portion of a step where pronation happens).

When we use this diagnostic tool, you will walk or run on a treadmill as we observe what your feet are doing with every step. This allows us to understand any underlying issues and target the correct root cause of your pain.

After we have a better understanding of your condition, we use the findings to create an effective treatment plan.

Most conditions that affect your gait are addressed using conservative, nonsurgical treatment methods. We often find that orthotics are especially helpful. These custom-crafted inserts are made by our professionals and not from a machine that mass-produces them. When we create your orthotics, we use measurements of your unique feet and factor in the results from our analysis to provide medical devices that work for you.

For more information about gait patterns, or to request an appointment to have your foot or ankle pain diagnosed and treated, contact Waukesha Foot Specialists today by calling (262) 544-0700.

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