One of the common issues I notice in client assessments is related to their walking gait. The commonly accepted proper walking technique is to hold the chin parallel to the ground, looking straight ahead, with shoulders rounded forward slightly, alternately swinging one arm forward and other arm back, rolling heel-to-toe on each step. Each step should be far enough to plant upon the front half of the heel while rolling onto the ball of the foot as it progresses behind you. The arm should pull the elbow behind you for each swing, and be opposite the leg that is extending in front of the body.
We are going to review three issues you should check for to see if your walking form should be evaluated.
Issue #1: Feet turning outward
If one or both feet point outward while walking, this can cause several different issues from the foot on up. Lying on your back, lift your head and look to see if either the knee or the big toe turn outward first. If the knee turns outward first, then there is some hip tightness related to the position of your knee.
You can test for hip tightness by kneeling to the floor, and trying to place both hands on the floor while on the left knee, then repeating again with the right knee. Listen to your body and try to not put your hands all the way down unless it feels easy to do so.
Tight hips can create several types of low back and leg discomfort, such as a pinching feeling on the outside of the hip bone area, or a pulling sensation in the low back, especially when sitting in a car for a long time.
Issue #2: Pelvic tilt
If your hips tilt too far behind you, then you may be experiencing low back pain. This results from tight lower back muscles having to compensate for weak abdominal muscles to stabilize the torso as it twists while walking.
The simplest stretch test for this issue is to lie on your back on either the couch or a bed, bend one knee to your chest, and lower the other leg towards the floor. If you cannot extend the lowered leg to slightly below parallel with your body, then rebound from the ground is hitting you right in the back of your hips with every step. Walking distances can be a problem with this issue, termed excessive anterior pelvic tilt.
Issue #3: Pain in the foot
Pain can develop in several places on the foot: between toes, ball of foot, outside of foot, under the arch, or top of the arch. The first three are generally related to stress in the tendons between the bones of the feet based on how the foot pushes off of the ground. The pain under the arch is often related to the plantar fascia, connective tissue that wears down from overuse. Top of the arch pain is often related to impact on the cartilage between the talus (ankle bone) and tibia (shin bone), resulting in impingement and reduced mobility in the ankle.
Walking tests will often show smaller steps or shuffled steps, uneven weight shifts, or outright pain when stepping on the affected foot. Best possible treatments for these issues are ice to affected areas along with rest. Long-term functional exercise routines can create movement patterns that will reduce the likelihood that these problems will recur.
By Justin Walls
Justin Walls is a certified personal trainer (American College of Sports Medicine), specializing in youth fitness, senior fitness, myofascial release techniques, joint pain/arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, aqua fitness, running, and walking. He also has expertise in lifestyle/health management and meal planning, and a background in psychology. Learn more at justinwallsfitness.com.