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Gait Analysis has long been used in medical settings to help people with movement disorders. Patients with cerebral palsy have learned to move more efficiently and with more stability after gait analysis.
Today, casual joggers and walkers are using the same technique to find the right footwear, to prevent injury, and to assess chronic injuries or soreness.
In general, gait analysis is the study of the body’s motion during normal running and walking; it typically focuses on foot and ankle motion but can also assess motion at the knees, hips, trunk, and arms. The process involves evaluating the leg’s anatomical structure, muscle flexibility and strength – assessing how those factors influence the way a person runs or walks.
Weak or inflexible muscles, if stressed by a lot of running or walking over time, can lead to injury. And even a simple movement such as an excessive arm swing can make a difference in the performance of a competitive runner, adding a precious second or two to running times.
Gait analysis can demonstrate, from a biomechanical standpoint, what you are doing when you walk or run. It may show where someone is inflexible or weak in a specific muscle. The whole point of gait analysis is to understand why you do what you do when your feet are on the ground.
Watching your step
But not all gait analysis is the same. Footwear stores often offer the simplest method – a visual inspection of the foot and shoe. For a more extensive and professional analysis, a Physical Therapist can provide video gait analysis, in which a person is taped while walking or running on a treadmill and their movements are studied and analyzed. Some offer a more sophisticated method that includes a digital analysis using video and motion analysis computer software that can produce two-dimensional or three-dimensional images. The different types of gait analysis assessments will give you different information. The combination of frame-by-frame analysis on a computer, along with the extensive background and expertise of a Physical Therapist, offer the best combination.
During an analysis, a Physical Therapist will:
• Examine patterns of wear on the customer’s old running shoes. A Physical Therapist knows the “normal” wear pattern that should be seen on a shoe. If the wear pattern is abnormal, and especially if the pattern is asymmetrical when comparing one foot to the other, a correction may be advised.
• Examine calluses on the feet. There are certain callus patterns that a Physical Therapist may look for. This is another piece to the puzzle.
• Observe runners as they walk. These professionals can identify problems with knock-knees, pigeon toes or fallen arches.
• Video tape a runner from various angles. The tape is then played back frame by frame to identify specific movements not visible to the human eye.
All of this information is gathered to determine a specific plan for that person. They can then adjust workouts and flexibility and strengthening exercises that would target what the client needs to improve performance.
For example, gait analysis showed several members of a girl’s running team tended to twist their upper bodies while running. The computerized video measurement even showed the angle of the tilt. Runners perform faster when their upper body is still. Moreover, twisting of the upper body can cause the thighs to rotate in too much. One common result of this abnormal rotation is a knock-kneed appearance and kneecap pain.
The most likely problems identified in gait analysis include an over-pronated foot that shifts weight to the inside and strains the connective tissues of the foot, ankle and knee. Over-pronation can lead to falling arches, bunions, and heel pain and other foot injuries. (A pronated foot needs a shoe with more support for stability.)
Another typical gait problem is a supinated, or under-pronated, foot. Someone with a supinated foot has an insufficient inward roll of the foot and stress can be transferred to the knee or Achilles tendon. This type of foot does not absorb shock well. Runners with high arches and tight Achilles tendons tend to have a supinated foot. (The supinated foot usually needs a shoe with more cushion.)
But gait analysis can also show if one leg is shorter than the other, if the runner has a hip sway, excessive upper-body movement or other abnormal movement. An expert performing gait analysis will look at the entire body.
The key to gait analysis, say experts, is to gain some useful information that will prevent injury. This can involve a simple change in footwear, use of orthotics, therapies to strengthen or add flexibility to muscles, and changes to one’s mechanics or exercise patterns.
Who should get one?
Opinions vary on whether gait analysis is useful for everyone. Most biomechanics experts agree that almost everyone can benefit from a visual gait analysis to help them find the best running shoe. But some experts think more detailed gait analysis is best suited for competitive runners trying to gain a performance edge or for people who are trying to figure out the cause of a chronic injury. However, Physical Therapists have also seen the dramatic improvements in patients who strictly want to walk better – to be able to walk in the grocery store for 30 minutes.
Research shows that at least half of runners sustain an injury over the course of a year. Many are related to biomechanical flaws. Physical Therapists have seen that people need to know what to look for in a shoe, to help them walk or run better. Education is key.
The cost of video analysis varies. Health insurance often covers gait analysis performed in a medical setting if the purpose is to assess an injury.
Consumers who undergo gait analysis should make sure they receive sound advice. Most experts suggest that gait analysis for injury diagnosis and treatment should be performed in a healthcare setting. The value in gait analysis is in the person doing it, not the equipment. Many shoe stores offer advice on footwear and some even do gait analysis. But if it’s advice on mechanics, that’s something that requires training. The Physical Therapist has the best medical background in this field, to offer the most appropriate advice on an individual basis at a good price. Call and ask ECRC-PT about gait analysis.