Full disclosure: the bio-mechanics of walking are different than those of running. And, the bio-mechanics of running are different than those of sprinting. So, today we’re talking about how to walk without wacking out any body parts. Yup, many of my clients come to me because they’ve inadvertently wacked out one or more body parts and their issues often stem from everyday foot mechanics and walking gait. It happens to the best of us.
Before we talk about how your foot should move when you walk, let’s do a little pre-requisite silly barefoot walk. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-bone width apart. (To find your ‘hip-bones,’ put your hands on your hips and find the little bumps that stick out in front, close to your pointer fingers.) Now roll your feet a little bit inward so that the only toe you’re using is your big toe. Take a little walk across the room.
Notice if any muscles seem to be working harder than usual when you silly-walk. Most likely, you’ll feel the muscles on the inside edge of your knee. Think about it: if you did that repeatedly over time, those muscles would pull your knee out of alignment, maybe even wearing out the joint.
A sobering fact: about 250,000 people in the US will undergo a knee replacement surgery this year. Poor body mechanics are only one reason why knees wear out, but I’m all for stacking the deck and not going there unless absolutely necessary.
PROPER FOOT MECHANICS
Let’s do this with bare feet so that you can feel a bit more of the sensations happening in your feet.
Step 1: This time, begin with your feet hip-bone width apart so that each leg creates a straight up-and-down stack from your hip to the floor. Right off the bat, you’re starting in a better bio-mechanical position, one that creates the least amount of uneven wear on your hip, knee, ankle and foot joints.
Step 2: Stand with your toes pointed forward. To be super-specific: pinky toes forward. That feels weird to many people, so if you’re in that boat, start with you big toes forward.
Avoid the “duck-walk” position, which involves pointing your toes outward like duck when you walk. My apologies to the neighborhood guy in this photo, who I caught duck-walking with his morning cuppa joe. Maybe he doesn’t walk like this when he’s wearing better shoes for walking. Read my thoughts on those flip-flops he’s wearing: click This position, repeated over and over causes excessive wear on the many small joints in your feet, as well as causing uneven wear on your ankles, knees and hips. Yup, all those joints talk to each other, like the links in a bicycle chain. If you had a damaged link on your bike chain, you wouldn’t expect it to work well, would you? Same thing with your body mechanics.
Step 3: Take a step forward, landing with your heel first. This is trickier than you might think, depending on your footwear, eh? This step requires flexing your foot at the ankle and lifting those piggies toward your shin. Notice whether you walk differently when barefoot, compared to wearing shoes. Sometimes “supportive” shoes are overly stiff in the sole, limiting the natural movement of your foot. I’ve got some super-cute girlie wedge sandals that don’t flex at all in the sole – they’re not very functional, so I limit my expected walk-time in them.
Step 4: Roll onto the mid-section section of your foot. The ball of your foot – the meaty part just before your toes — hits the floor now, with the toes flexed. Your foot should flex quite a bit at the ball joint. If you really pay attention, you’ll feel your arch lifting and doming. This is a good thing – you’re feeling the muscles in the sole of your foot doing their job to move all those tiny bones in your foot. Did you know that your foot houses 25% of the bones in your body? Yup, it’s a highly technical device, that foot.
Notice whether you roll a bit to one side of the ball of your foot. If so, try again and shoot for using the entire ball of your foot.
Notice whether you’re walking differently barefoot than when you wear shoes. If the ball section of your shoe doesn’t allow you to move the way do barefoot, consider replacing them. A common piece of detective work that I do with many clients: hmm, have you started any activities since your foot pain started? Spiked golf shoes and baseball spikes are notorious for causing foot, hip and low-back pain because they can be overly stiff in the sole. Notice whether your feet are particularly cranky after those sports – it is possible to find better choices with spikes, you’ll just have to hunt around a bit.
Step 5: Lever forward onto your toes. While we’re picking on your walking mechanics, try to do this slowly, so that you can notice what’s going with those piggies. The pinky toe should hit the floor first – makes sense, it’s shorter and closer to your ankle, right? Then, each of the other toes hits the floor in succession, like drumming your fingers on a table. As you continue your step, that pinky toe leaves the floor first, then each of the other toes in succession.
Although it’s a common gait imbalance, you don’t want to skip using any of your toes individually. They’re important for balance, and if you’re using all of your toes together as one unit, you’re not using all of the ‘walking muscles’ in your legs.
COMMON ISSUES THAT CAN STEM FROM POOR FOOT MECHANICS OR GAIT:
- Bunions – yup, the duck-walk can lead to these
- Plantar fasciitis – not working through the sole of your foot can create this painful malady
- Knee issues
- Hip issues
- Low-back issues
WHAT TO DO IF YOU NEED HELP
Other professionals who can help with correcting foot mechanics and walking gait:
- Pilates Trainers
- Occupational Therapists
- Certified Athletic Trainers
- Physical Therapists
- Ortho Bionomists
When contacting a professional, don’t hesitate to ask them about their experience in working with your specific issue. If you feel strongly about what your next steps should be — like, “I’d like to try rehabilitative exercises, not drugs or surgery,” mention that too. This is smart shopping to find a good match for your needs!
About the Author
Christine Binnendyk is the creator of the Ageless Pilates and Barre Fitness workout programs, taught exclusively at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.. Nike employees take her Pain Free Body, Pain Free Athlete and Pain Free at the Office workshops at the Nike Sports Centers. Public workshops are available through Portland Community College. Find her best-selling book “Ageless Pilates” on Amazon.