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Walk this Way: Where things go awry – loss of strength

Not only do our joints need to be mobile enough for movement to progress successfully, but we also need to be strong enough to control the forces that are acting on our body.

Gravity is a constant companion to our movement in this world- we work using the strength of our muscles to help move against it, and control it.

Walking as we looked at in our first week, is a series of double and single leg stance positions. Running differs, as it is essentially periods of flight, and periods of single leg stance. In addition to strength, walking also requires amazing timing- muscles sequencing in harmony to assist us with the incredible orchestration of smooth gait. The strength and mobility are much easier goals to achieve- working with timing usually requires the assistance of a trained PT and usually some form of electrical stimulation.

Dr. Perry and her team studied gait using force plates, joint markers to measure mobility at segments, and indwelling or surface electrodes to measure EMG (electromyography)- a tool that gives information about the amplitude of activation within a given muscle.

The highest forces to overcome (and therefore the highest muscular demand) in our walking cycle occurs at our ankle right at the transition between Terminal Stance (TSt) and Pre Swing (PSw). Recall, these phases are also the times when the most big toe and ankle mobility are required.

During this period of our gait cycle, most of the muscles of the lower limb (the gastrocnemius/soleus, tibialis posterior, fibularis longus and brevis) peak in their activation as they elevate the heel against the load of body weight. If you recall from our foot lecture, this is also the time in our walking cycle, when our plantar fascia can wind up, stiffening our foot and thereby improving our efficiency through this movement.

1) Testing your ankle for walking:

In order to test your capacity for healthful walking, you want to check in with your heel lift. A heel lift gives us information about the strength of our gastroc/soleus as well as the strength of the posterior tibialis.

Heel Lifts:

Stand close to a wall. You can use the wall for support. Lift both heels and lower. If you have any pain with this exercise, proceed with option A. If no pain option B:

A. Have a comfortable seat. Reach for your theraband and wrap it around the bottom of your foot. Gently push into the resistance of the band, like pushing your foot onto a gas pedal. Hold 3 seconds. Release the position slowly, taking a slow count of 3 to return to the start. Repeat 30 times, 2-3 times.

B. Standing: press your big toe and pinky toes down into the ground. Lift your heels, keeping your weight balanced between your big and little toes. Hold 1 second, then slowly lower back down to start, taking 3 seconds to do so. If this feels easy and pain free, please try single leg. Make sure not to bend your knee, or roll forward. You want to elevate straight up, as if you were on a pole in a carousel. Work up to 20-30 repetitions of single leg on each side (20 single leg heel lifts with good form are necessary for healthful walking).

Enjoy- stay challenged and safe. Remember it takes 6 weeks for true strength gains.

Another place where we see movement go wonky occurs because of pelvic instability. During our June glutes blog and workshop, we covered the importance of the glute minimus and glute medius in keeping your pelvis stable while standing on one leg (click here for our Fire Up Your Glutes content). Because walking is a series of single leg stance to double leg stance, we must be strong enough to stand on one leg in order to perform with good mechanics.

2) Testing your glute minimus and medius for walking

Self-Assessing Your Glute Medius/ Glute Minimus- Trendelenburg Sign: DO try this at home:

If you have a full length mirror, stand so that you can view yourself straight on. If you are not too shy, you could have a loved one film you facing front.

Locate your pelvis. Feel for the place where your pelvis protrudes forward. This area is known as the ASIS. Place both hands there for reference.

Start by standing on one leg. Notice if you are able to do this and maintain an even position at your pelvis. Notice if one pelvis drops or lifts.

Perform on each side, and make a note of any findings.

Of course, these are not all of the possible issues that can hamper successful gait mechanics, but just a couple of the most common challenges that I see clients working through in the clinic.

If walking is a breeze, and you have a love of speed, make sure to check in next week for our exploration of findings from Dr. Irene Davis’s running lab.

Until then, happy moving!


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