Updated: Dec 18, 2022
You might hear people throw this word around like we should all know what it means. But do we really know what it means?
/ɡāt/ Learn to pronounce
a person's manner of walking.
First off, it’s not just your walk, but how you walk. What is your preference towards walking? Big strides, short strides, extra pelvic rotation, no arm swing, overuse of your trunk? And are these things bad? Nope.
The only time we want to modify someone’s gait is when there is pain and we can directly connect something in their gait to their pain.
If you are smooth sailing, and have no pain then great! Don’t change a thing…
But here’s where it gets dicey...
Sometimes people do not have complaints of pain during walking, but they have pain with, for example, stairs or squatting. So why would I want to look at your gait? It only hurts when you squat, right? Well, if I were to check out your gait and see that with each step you are twisting through you limb and around your big toe, instead of pushing through your big toe then I know you are constantly placing stress on your knee (and anything else above your foot).
How do I know this? Because if you aren't getting motion in your foot, for example, then you are going to have to find it somewhere else. Often times it can be the knee as it is the next available joint. So I would want to suggest gait exercises to improve those mechanics. Because even though it doesn't hurt to walk, if we can redistribute the stressors for when you are walking, then you should have less "pent up" irritation and overuse of your knee when you do something more difficult, like squat! or go down stairs or bend over, etc. Remember, the average American takes about 3,000-4,000 steps per day. So if we are using certain mechanics that place too much stress on specific joints or tissues, for 4,000+ steps daily then that is a big deal!
This is why when you're in physical therapy, and they ask you to walk, they are looking for big and little red flags that show points in your gait cycle that may be putting extra load on specific joints or tissues. A good assessment will be from head to toe, and even better done with video so you can really get specific.
If you or someone you know has been suffering from pain, they may benefit from a movement and gait assessment. Or if you're a big nerd and just want to learn more about how your body moves, a gait assessment can be fun as it can almost predict possible future injuries and prevent them from ever happening!