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  • Writer's pictureBen Harris

A Move to Improve - 10: How to Walk

Walking is an important exercise throughout your whole life

Most people start walking at approximately 1 year of age. We are not taught, just given the opportunity and encouragement. As we age, less thought is put into how we walk as the assumption is: "we are doing it right." However due to changes in strength, joint range, pain, balance and co-ordination lead to some very odd and inefficient walking styles that can lead to more problems.

Your walking style can increase your risk of a fall

Type 1: Shuffle

This is common with the ageing population and is characterised by small steps where the foot barely clears the ground if at all. The main problem with this walking style is the high risk of a fall from tripping eg. uneven pavement, rug or going from carpet to tiles. Also, as there is minimal weight shift there is less chance of self correction if overbalancing occurs.

Small steps increase your risk of tripping

The good news is, this gait pattern can be improved with awareness and training. Exercises such as lifting the knees up help strengthen the hip flexor muscles making it more likely for the feet to clear the ground. If confidence and balance is an issue; specific balance exercises can improve confidence and time on one foot so stepping is made easier. If these don't work, a walking aid is a good idea as it provided stability as each foot is lifted, giving the user more confidence to raise their foot higher without falling.

Type 2: Pain avoidance - Pirate

The pirate walk is based mainly on pain. If the pain is in the knee, the leg will often remain straight and swing out to the side (like a pirate with a peg leg) to prevent the toes catching on the ground. If the hip is the issue, the knee and hip hardly move which means the lower back has to compensate. This causes a large sway of the shoulders from side to side and excessive movement of the opposite hip.

Both are issues as they lead to improper loading and eventually pain in other joints.

Often it is a case of fixing the original site of pain eg hip bursitis; then the body does not attempt to avoid the pain and the flow on effect is each joint completing its job correctly.

While the original site of concern is being fixed the best advice is to slow down your walking and think about each step you take. In doing so, the smaller surrounding muscles have time to react and support the painful area limiting the extend of the limp and helping prevent bad habits forming.

Life is too short to worry about pain.

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