Gait is the way in which we move our whole body from one point to another, usually by walking, running, hoping etc. Gait analysis assesses the way we walk or run to highlight biomechanical abnormalities.
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 or muscles are weak this limits range of motion. The body must find ways of compensating for the problem. As a result this leads to biomechanical abnormalities. Examples include:
- Increased Q angle
- Hip hiking (or hitching) – lifting the hip on one side
- Ankle equinus – limited ankle dorsiflexion
- Pelvic tilt – can be either anterior, posterior or lateral
Biomechanical problems are usually caused by muscular imbalances. However, sometimes structural problems, such as leg length discrepancies are the cause.
What is Gait Analysis?
Gait analysis is usually performed by medical professionals, such as a podiatrist or physiotherapist. Although, it is becoming more widespread and readily available. Many specialists running and sports shops have equipment and staff trained in gait analysis.
Gait analysis 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.
In more specialist settings, a video recorder is set-up behind the treadmill. This records video of your gait cycle.
This is relayed to a laptop where your running style is assessed using slow motion and freeze frames. This form of gait analysis usually focuses on the feet and ankles. Watch our video on treadmill gait analysis here.
Many injuries are often caused, at least in part, by poor biomechanics. Runners and athletes whose sports require a high level of running and jumping should make sure they have had a gait analysis and buy the correct footwear to avoid future overuse injuries. The following are a list of common overuse injuries associated with poor gait biomechanics:
- Shin splints
- Plantar fasciitis
- Iliotibial band syndrome (runners knee)
- Patella tendonitis (jumpers knee)
- Patellofemoral knee pain
- Achilles tendonitis
- Lower back pain
One way that you can get an idea for yourself whether you pronate, supinate or have a neutral foot strike is to look at the wear of your trainers or shoes. These must be shoes which you have worn a lot so that there is a pattern of wear on the sole. Watch our video on assessing trainer wear here.
Sports podiatrist Ian Sadler explains gait analysis using a foot scanner and treadmill analysis.
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 make up the remaining 40%. During walking there is a period called double stance, where both feet are in contact with the ground. The swing and stance phases can be further divided into:
- Heel strike – The point when the heel hits the floor
- Foot flat – The point where the whole of the foot comes into contact with the floor
- Midstance – Where we are transferring weight from the back to the front of our feet
- Toe off – Pushing off with the toes to propel us forwards
- Acceleration – The period from toe off to maximum knee flexion in order for the foot to clear the ground
- Mid-swing – The period between maximum knee flexion and the forward movement of the tibia (shin bone) to a vertical position
- Deceleration – The end of the swing phase before heel strike
When running, a higher proportion of the cycle is the swing phase as the foot is in contact with the ground for a shorter period. Because of this, there is now no double stance phase, and instead, there is a point where neither feet are in contact with the ground. This is called the flight phase. As running speed increases, the stance phase becomes shorter and shorter.
Corrections to your Gait Cycle
If it is found that there is an abnormality of your gait cycle. This can usually be correct with a change in footwear, the use of orthotics or an exercise programme.
Running shoes usually cater to those who either overpronate, oversupinate or have a neutral position. It is important to make sure you have the right running shoes for your style of running.