When many of us think of problems associated with our gait we think about foot structure, joint quality and soft tissue function – factors largely beyond our conscious control. But could certain walking styles contribute to foot, knee, hip or back pain? The answer is yes!
- Looking down
Did you know that looking down during walking can shorten the muscles around the front of the body including the hips? It also changes your centre of mass (balance) making it more likely to trip and fall! Unless we need to watch out for obstacles (e.g. rocky surface), this habit may being doing us more harm than good…
- Over striding
Many of us have a tendency to overstride, especially those who are fast walkers (or always late)! However overstriding, or stepping out farther forward, may lead to hyperextension of the knee and a harder heel strike. The muscles at the front of our legs (such as tibialis anterior) also need to work harder to flex our feet upwards. These gait alterations can lead to tendinopathies, shin splints, heel and knee pain, and so its better to keep yourself at a normal walking speed (or buy a watch) rather than risk these problems.
- Poor core engagement
While seemingly behind many ailments, poor core engagement can have particularly detrimental effects for our walking. Weak or disengaged core muscles tend to allow the pelvis to tilt forward, increasing curvature and compression in the lumbar spine. This can lead to lower back pain during function and ain’t nobody got time for that… Invest in Pilates lessons or spend some time researching how to engage your core properly, aiming to make this a habitual part of your walking.
- Failure to stretch
Failing to stretch, especially the calf muscles and hamstrings, can force the body to compensate during walking to get around the restriction. This may mean your feet roll in or externally rotate more, and knees, hips and back lose proper alignment. Tight calf muscles are a major cause of many common foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinopathy and shin splints. Investing 5 minutes a day into stretching your leg muscles is sure to help you prevent injury while walking.
- And of course… Shoes!
Tight shoes, loose shoes, worn out shoes and poorly fitting shoes – you’re not going to get very far with those! Even if you do, you’re probably cooking a nice bunion or tendon injury in the process. Do yourself a favour and invest in at least one good-quality, professionally fit shoe once per year which promotes a healthy gait and protects your feet from external trauma. Most joggers and lace up shoes will fit the bill. Most people need to minimise heel height – but there are some people who actually need to wear a moderately heeled shoe – or they are in pain!
Remember – the podiatrists at The Podiatry Practice are experts in gait assessment and treatment. If you feel you have problems with your walking call us on 3391 3900 for a professional examination.