Gait analysis is the systematic study of animal locomotion, specifically human motion, employing observers' eyes and brains, augmented by instrumentation for measuring body movements, body mechanics, and muscle activation.
Gait analysis is used to examine and treat people who have diseases that limit their ability to walk. It is also extensively used in sports biomechanics to assist athletes in running more effectively and to discover posture-related or movement-related problems in injured individuals.
In this article, we will explore the process, and equipment used in gait analysis, as well as its applications in various fields. Whether you are a healthcare professional, an athlete, or simply interested in learning more about this fascinating field, this article will provide valuable information and insights.
The Most Common Conditions That Necessitate Gait Analysis
Gait analysis is the systematic study of human motion, and it is used to assess and treat individuals with conditions affecting their ability to walk. Some common conditions that may require gait analysis include:
Abnormal gait: An abnormal gait is a change to your walking pattern. Anything that affects your brain, spinal cord, legs or feet can change your gait. Some common examples of an abnormal gait include limping, dragging your toes, shuffling your feet, short steps, difficulty supporting the weight of your body, and trouble with coordination.
Antalgic gait: An antalgic gait is the result of pain. It’s the most common type of abnormal gait. It makes you limp (avoiding stepping with or putting pressure on your affected leg or foot).
Propulsive gait (Parkinsonian gait): This type of gait affects people diagnosed with parkinsonism or Parkinson’s disease. Characteristics of a propulsive gait include a stooping, rigid posture and your head and neck bending forward.
Scissors gait: This type of gait gets its name because your knees and thighs hit or cross in a scissors-like pattern when you walk. This type of gait usually affects people diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy.
Spastic gait (hemiplegic gait): A spastic gait causes you to walk with one stiff leg. This type of gait is common among people diagnosed with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or hemiplegia.
Steppage gait (neuropathic gait): This type of gait causes a high step, where you elevate your hip to lift your leg higher than normal. Muscle atrophy or a peroneal nerve injury (like from spinal stenosis or a herniated disc), can cause a steppage gait.
Waddling gait: A waddling gait causes you to exaggerate the movement of your upper body, which creates a waddling or duck-like walk.
Gait Analysis and Sports Biomechanics
In sports biomechanics, gait analysis is commonly used to help athletes run more efficiently and to identify posture-related or movement-related problems in people with injuries. Gait analysis evaluates a person’s walking pattern, which is seen as a sequence of gait cycles, where each gait cycle follows the movement of a single limb from heel-strike to heel-strike again.
The two main gait phases are the stance phase and the swing phase. By analyzing an athlete’s gait, sports biomechanists can identify any abnormalities or inefficiencies in their movement patterns and develop a training program to address these issues. With running gait analysis, athletes can be trained to run more efficiently and can reduce the incidence of injuries.
For example, a runner may have a tendency to overpronate (roll their foot inward) when they run, which can lead to injuries such as shin splints or knee pain. By analyzing their gait, a sports biomechanist can identify this issue and recommend exercises or changes to their running form to correct it.
Gait analysis is an important tool in sports biomechanics that can help athletes improve their performance and reduce their risk of injury. By analyzing an athlete’s gait, sports biomechanists can identify any abnormalities or inefficiencies in their movement patterns and develop a training program to address these issues.
Methods and Tools for Gait Analysis
Gait analysis can be performed using observational or instrumented techniques. Observational analysis is a less objective assessment by which an observer uses visual observation to analyze gait and hypothesize whether gait movement varies from the norm.
Instrumented gait analysis, on the other hand, is a systematic and quantitative instrumental assessment of the biomechanical measures of locomotion, aimed at understanding the etiology of locomotor abnormalities and at assisting clinicians in their decisional process.
During an instrumented gait analysis, a variety of instruments are used to capture the various signals that characterize the human gait. These include accelerometers, gyroscopic sensors, magnetometers, force sensors, extensometers, goniometers, active markers, electromyography, etc.
The data collected by these instruments is then analyzed to identify any abnormalities or inefficiencies in the individual’s gait. A variety of instruments are used to capture the various signals that characterize the human gait. These include accelerometers, gyroscopic sensors, magnetometers, force sensors, extensometers, goniometers, active markers, electromyography, etc.
Accelerometers are used to measure the acceleration or velocity of human lateral movements during gait cycles. Gyroscopes are used to measure the changes in orientation of lower body extremes with respect to the vertical axis.
In recent years, the use of wearable inertial and magnetic sensor units (IMMUs) for gait analysis has gained enough accuracy to be used in a rehabilitation context. The improvements in dimensions, waterproofing, and cost of IMMUs have allowed for the use of motion analysis even in underwater environments.
Treatment Options in 2023
Treatment for abnormal gait varies based on the type of gait and its underlying cause. Before choosing any form of treatment, it’s always best to consult a medical professional to fully understand what’s the best option for your condition. Some common treatments for abnormal gait include:
Medications: Medications may be used to treat the underlying condition that is causing the abnormal gait, such as arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis.
Rest: If the abnormal gait is caused by an injury, resting may help to alleviate symptoms1.
Physical therapy: Physical therapy and strengthening exercises may be used to improve muscle strength and coordination, which can help to improve gait.
Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying cause of the abnormal gait. For example, hip or knee replacements may be used to treat arthritis that is causing an abnormal gait.