Most doctors agree that walking is a great way to improve or maintain your health. This is especially important as many of us are now working from home. But what if your “gait,” or the way someone walks, is contributing to some of the aches and pains you may feel in your body. There are some ways that you can work to change or improve your gait to make walking painless.
This should be prefaced by saying that everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone. Some individuals may have anatomical differences that predispose them to a specific type of gait, and many people walk with slight differences with no pain at all. BUT, if you are finding yourself dealing with pain during or after walking, it may be worth it to review some common biomechanical faults in walking techniques
“Overpronation” is a common term that many in the walking and running community have heard of ad nauseum. If we look down at our feet, overpronation is when the arches of our feet collapse inwards as we take a step. In severe cases, this can have a cascading effect that can lead to our knees collapsing and our hips rotating inwards. Overpronation can lead to a common type of foot pain called “Plantar Fasciitis.” The hallmark sign of Plantar Fasciitis is pain near the heel of the foot that is especially painful during those first few steps in the morning.
If this sounds like something you may be suffering from, the first thing you will want to do is to take a look at your footwear. Many people suffering from Plantar Fasciitis can benefit from shoes with more arch support during their walks. Orthotic insoles are also a good option for greater arch support and have the added versatility of being able to be inserted in other shoes like your more formal shoes to improve your gait.
After reviewing your footwear, it is possible that your gait could also benefit from a stretching routine. You’ll likely want to stretch out your calf muscles. Many people know how to perform the calf stretch by either going into a lunging position while keeping your heels down or propping your foot against something and leaning forwards.
A pro-tip for calf stretching is to make sure to perform the stretch first with the knee straight on the back leg and then again with the knee bent. This will ensure you are stretching both calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These stretches should be performed gently and should be discontinued if you start experiencing pain. It is generally recommended to hold stretches for a cumulative time of one minute.
Walking is still a great way to get a boost in both your physical and mental health, and hopefully these tips can help with any aches and pains that you experience in your gait. If you continue to have pain, whether in your feet or somewhere else in your body, your physician or a Physical Therapist can help find the root cause and come up with a game plan to help keep you moving.
Dr. Rafael Cui, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist at Kinetix Physical Therapy