What is gait and the gait cycle

Gait literally means human walking. The gait cycle refers to taking a step with your right foot and then with your left. There are two phases of gait: the stance phase and the swing phase. When you assess gait it is most informative if you focus on the stance phase; and, you can assume if the stance phase is executed with relative efficiency, the swing phase will take care of itself.

Why assessing gait is important

  • gives a systemic view of movement mechanics during walking
  • helps guide our exercise choices
  • can be re-assessed multiple times during a session to help client and teacher assess progress that day
  • each time gait mechanics are reassessed teacher gets opportunity to evaluate what client needs
  • bottom line: if gait mechanics improve over a session you leave your client in a good state to walk out the door

How to assess gait

  • watch for t-spine rotation
  • watch arm swing (it is dependent on t-spine rotation – limited t-spine rotation = limited arm swing)
  • watch motion of pelvis in 3 planes
    • pelvic list (up and down like hip hiking)
    • pelvic rotation (easiest to see)
    • pelvic torsion (most difficult to see)
    • all of these motions are a few degrees only
  • watch heel strike (what part of the foot hits the ground at heel strike… don’t assume it is always the heel)
  • watch push off (ideally you push off your big toe at push off; this gives prolusions to your stride and allows a swing at the hips that does not overtax the superficial hip flexors; most people do not actually push off their big toes)

Working hypothesis of what usually goes wrong in gait

  • most people have restricted motion in the t-spine and need to increase it
  • most people have excessive pelvic motion in at least one plane and need to contain it
  • most people do not heel strike on outside back corner of heel and need better ankle mobility to do so
  • most people do not roll off big toe at push off and need to improve the strength of halluces longus as well as digitorum longus

Stay tuned for next week’s article where I share my top exercises to restore optimal gait mechanics.