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3 Signs That Your Gait is Off

Updated: 6 days ago

Walking is one of the most repetitive movements that we do every single day.  It’s also one of the most natural, even primal movements, that our bodies have evolved, and adapted to over millennia.  Because of this, walking is an excellent form of exercise in and of itself, but it’s also a very helpful way to understand how our bodies are designed to move in the first place, and how to optimize human movement, so that you can perform at your best, whatever the activity might be.  So, let's kick off our shoes and explore three simple signs that your walk might be out of balance.

Stride Length

With every step we take the pelvis will rotate away from the leg that is stepping forward.  Stride length refers to how far forward that leg is swinging before you place it on the ground.  When one leg swings farther forward than the other leg, then it will inherently mean that the pelvis is twisting further one way more than the other.  This can put pressure on the spine itself and lead to uneven muscle balance, along with more wear and tear on the joints and bones themselves. 

It’s very easy and simple to test your own stride length.  Simply find a flat spot where you can walk straight for about 10 steps, then turn around and walk back to where you came from.  Keep walking back and forth until you have a clear sense of how far forward your legs are swinging with each step.  The hardest part is to notice what's happening without trying to change anything.

The solution here is not to try to change the way you walk,  that would be exhausting and ineffective.  So, think of this as a way to simply gain awareness about how your body naturally moves. What we do about it is a different question. 

Arm Swing

Your arms aren't just along for the ride when you walk; they're like your body's rhythm section, keeping you in sync with each step. Just as we saw with the legs, the swing of the arms will pull the rib cage into a twist. When we walk, ideally there is an equal and even amount of rotation through the spine, along with an equal and even swing in the arms.  It’s very common for one arm to swing more than the other, or for the spine to twist one way more than the other. 

Remember, what we do about these imbalances is a different question, so for now, just use these suggestions to gain awareness about how your body naturally moves. 

There are two ways to become aware of your arm swing. The first one is to simply stand with your feet comfortably under you, and then gently swing the arms forward and back, just as you would when you are walking.  Without the legs moving it is a little easier to feel how the spine itself twists with the arms.  Notice if it feels different on one side compared to the other. 

The next movement experiment is to again walk about 10 steps and then turn around and walk back.  Continue walking back and forth while paying attention to the swing of your arms.  With the legs moving underneath you now, you may have a sense of how easy it is to coordinate the opposite arm and leg swing at the same time.  Again, don’t try to make it perfect, don’t try to change it.  Simply try to understand what’s naturally happening. 

Foot Pressures

Now, let's talk about the foundation of your walk - your feet. One of the coolest things about looking at our walking patterns is to learn more about the feet, and they are very high tech and very sophisticated! When we walk, the only thing in contact with the ground is our feet. What this means is that, any other movement that is happening in the body, all the way up to the neck, jaw, and shoulders, is influenced by the way that your feet hit the ground. 

Learning about your natural tendency to disperse weight through your feet can tell us a lot about how your entire body moves! (For my movement professionals and nerds out there… if there is more weight in the outer left heel then the right hip will likely struggle to adduct.  If one foot is more flat footed then you might find the rib cage also tilting towards that side of the body) 

To test your own foot pressures, simply stand in place and notice where the weight is going in your feet. If all your weight is on one foot, it's like your body's playing favorites, leaving the other foot out in the cold. And if you notice one foot tends to bear more weight than the other, it almost certainly means there is some type of imbalance when you walk or move in other ways.  So, take a moment to connect with the ground beneath you and see what your feet have to say.

Putting It All Together

So, why does any of this matter? Well, think of your walk as a window into your body's mechanics, sometimes I like to say primal biomechanics. By paying attention to these subtle cues, you can start to unravel the mysteries of your natural movement patterns and uncover any areas that might need a little TLC.

An area of the body that needs TLC might be a different place than where your pain is showing up.  For me, it was my right foot and knee, even though my pain was in my neck and shoulders. 

But here's the thing: Don't stress if you notice something off about your walk. We're all works in progress, and there's no such thing as perfect. The key is to stay curious and open to learning about your body's unique ways of interacting with gravity.

Additional Insights:

Now that we've covered the basics, let's dive a little deeper into each sign and explore what it might reveal about your body:

  • Stride Length: A discrepancy in stride length can indicate asymmetries in your hips and pelvis, especially in terms of rotation.  For example, if one the left leg steps forward farther than the right leg, then your hips and pelvis might struggle to twist to the left. 

  • Arm Swing: Your arm swing is closely linked to the rotation of your torso and plays a crucial role in maintaining balance in the upper body. If you notice an imbalance in the arm swing it might be a sign or excess pressure going into the neck, or a limitation somewhere else in the spine. 

  • Foot Pressures: Imbalances in foot pressures can stem from a variety of factors, including structural issues like flat feet or ankle sprains. If the pressure in one foot is really different from the pressure in the other foot this will often create an imbalance that spirals up the legs and into the rest of the body. 

Small Group Class Series - May:

By the way, our Small Group Class Series for May just started this week, and we still have slots available for Wednesday sessions. If you're interested in joining us for a deeper dive into movement and alignment, sign up for Wednesday group using this LINK

Keep putting one foot in front of the other, stay curious about your body's language, and celebrate the intricacies of your individual journey. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences, so don't hesitate to drop a comment below. And if you found this blog helpful, then please share it with a friend!

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