Walking seems to be an effortless and insignificant movement for us, bipedal beings. However, it is impressive to realize that we are superbly designed to meet the demands of this simplest mode of ambulation.
FRONT FOOT: Heel Strike
FRONT FOOT: Early Foot flat
BACK FOOT: Late Footflat
BACK FOOT: Heel Raise
BACK FOOT: Toe Off
Swing Phase occurs once that same foot leaves the ground alternately for the other foot to be in a stance, and the swing leg ready to get back to the Heel Strike position again. This is the gait cycle, the process with which we bring our body to a specific direction at a certain speed.
Deviations from this typical walking pattern can cause abnormalities in a movement that, if left uncorrected, can result in pain syndromes from muscular imbalance and abnormal loading on specific joints. Problems could arise, including back pain, hip, knee pain, and foot pain. In the weaker older adults, it can cause severe falls from poor balance.
A considerable amount of information is available about the complexities of walking. In this topic, however, I just want to share tips on how to walk effectively with less energy expenditure by efficiently utilizing the muscles of the legs.
Also relevant is injury prevention by ensuring the proper body and joint alignment towards our center of gravity to avoid unnecessary loading and stress to these structures.
1. Heel-Toe Walking.
Try this exercise: In standing, consciously step forward with the heel first, making sure the knee is entirely straight, before lowering the forefoot in contact with the ground surface. Do so with the other foot. If unsteady on your feet, hold on to the kitchen counter or wall to steady yourself.
Doing this will make your quads muscles contract to stabilize the knee joint, while the anterior tibialis muscle (muscle on the front of the lower leg) pulls the foot up towards the shin. This pattern ensures stability and prevents knee buckling.
2. Reverse this pattern when walking backward. It then becomes Toe – Heel walking. That is, the toes touch the floor first upon stepping back, followed by the heel. This helps with effective weight transference and less up and down motion making the gait pattern smooth and level and less tiring.
3. Sideways Walking.
Walking sideways in a Toe – Heel pattern with about shoulder-width distance between each foot helps with lateral stability. It activates muscles of the hips, the buttocks, and inner thighs, as well as the usual muscles of the legs during walking. You can hold on to again, a wall or counter, for stability if unstable on your feet.
(Image credited to Hep2Go.com, an exercise prescription program for Rehab Professionals)
OTHER HELPFUL EXERCISES THAT HELP WITH WALKING BETTER:
1. Heel and Toe Raise
– Holding onto a counter, table, or wall for support, go up on your toes (tiptoe) and hold this for 5 seconds. Holding this position for at least 5 seconds, ensure more muscle recruitment necessary for strength and stability. Repeat for about 10- 20 times as many times as able during the day.
In reverse, rock back on your heels, lifting the toes up, holding it again for 5 seconds, holding on for support to prevent falling backward. Again, repeat this about 10 – 20 times as able.
Stronger muscles on the legs provide ankle stability and rigidity that help with shock absorption as each foot hits the ground. This is important as the foot is subjected to the load of the bodyweight itself up to threefold as it is the first structure that hits the ground during bipedal ambulation.
2. Mini Squats / Wall Slides
A simple exercise that strengthens the legs, promotes the recruitment of all muscles necessary for bearing body weight and joint stabilization.
With your back against a wall, feet planted at about shoulder-width apart, bend knees slowly as tolerated, only halfway down for better tolerance. Hold this position for 5 seconds, and straighten up, go back to the initial position. Repeat this about 10 times or as able.
These simple tips are especially helpful for older adults who are weaker and unsteady on their feet. It is a good start towards improving the walking patterns, promoting ease of ambulation, and even fall prevention.
One can always consult with a doctor or a physical therapist for an evaluation and assessment of any gait or walking difficulties.
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