Is your gait causing pain and discomfort?

The pattern of your feet when you walk or run can impact how your body feels. Podiatrist Christina O’Brien explains what you need to know.

Written by Christina O’Brien

Your feet house a quarter of all of the bones in your body – they have an important job to do in keeping you moving. But they can become vulnerable to stresses. This can lead to compensatory movement patterns developing, which can cause pain, discomfort and disability.

By assessing your walking and running gait, a podiatrist can examine if any issues may be occurring, and come up with a personalised plan to resolve the issue.

How is gait analysis done?

As podiatrists, we are interested not only in how you walk, but in all your movement. We refer to it as a biomechanical assessment, as while your gait and walking are important, so too is how you move in all areas of your life.

We want to know about your life, your frequency of movement, what may aggravate your pain and what the relieving factors are. We examine the level of your hips, the roll of your knees and the impact of your stride. We will assess your joint range of motion and the strength of the muscles in your legs. We look at the angles that may change in your foot and lower limb when you are standing compared with walking.

All of these details are then compiled to create a picture of why you may be experiencing pain or discomfort when walking or standing.

MORE: Are your feet to blame for your hip or back pain?

Foot pronation

Pronation, or our foot rolling inwards as it makes contact with the ground, is our body’s natural shock absorption mechanism. It helps us to absorb the ground reaction forces when our foot strikes the ground. When our foot is in this position it also means that the joints are more ‘loosely packed’, and thus our foot is not as stable.

If the pronation goes beyond the normal limits, it can lead to over-straining of soft tissues in the foot. It may also cause compensatory foot mechanics, as the foot tries to maintain its stability.

If there isn’t enough pronation, then our foot cannot properly absorb the shock as it hits the ground. This results in points of the foot being used that are not designed for bearing as much load. This can create excessive stress in the foot, as these structures compensate for the extra pressure.

Choosing the right running shoes

There are so many different types of running shoes on the market and it can be difficult to determine which ones may be right for you. Your gait shows us how your foot functions while you are walking and running. Therefore we are able to help guide what sort of support and structure you would benefit from in a running shoe and give suggestions on which ones would be right for your individual needs.

MORE: How to choose a pair of running shoes

How else can a podiatrist help you to move better?

After careful biomechanical assessment we can collaborate with you to develop a treatment plan to relieve your symptoms and get you moving again free from pain if required, we can prescribe an orthotic device to wear in your shoes. This can help redistribute pressure, reduce compensatory patterns and allow for better foot function.

We can also assist with other things that may be causing you discomfort when walking, such as corns and calluses, which often develop from a compensatory gait pattern.

MORE: 5 signs you might need to see a podiatrist

Foot health checklist

Podiatrists are foot health experts who are university trained in the structure and movement of your feet and lower limbs. They can assess, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate foot, ankle, knee, leg or hip pain.

Do you:

  • Have sore feet?
  • Experience leg pain?
  • Have painful knees?
  • Experience sore hips?
  • Find walking or standing uncomfortable?
  • Experience leg or foot pain during sport?
  • Need advice on correct footwear?

If you are experiencing any of the above, a podiatrist can help get you moving, pain free and living a fuller life. Find a podiatrist near you at podiatry.org.au

Written by Christina O’Brien

Christina O’Brien is a senior podiatrist with experience in private and public health care in Sydney. She is a member and ambassador for the Australian Podiatry Association.

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