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The Mechanics of Walking

Walking involves a coordinated effort of the feet, knees, and hips. The cycle of how a person walks is called the gait. The gait cycle is divided into two phases: the time a foot is on the ground is called the “stance” and makes up 60% of the cycle. The motion of the foot off of the ground is called the swing.

During the stance phase, there are four motions that involve the foot.

  1. heel strikes the ground
  2. entire foot comes in contact with the ground
  3. heel lifts placing weight on the ball of the foot
  4. big toe provides the propulsion for the lift and swing

The swing phase has two characteristics — acceleration into the swing and deceleration into placement of the heel for the next step.

All phases of the gait cycle can be evaluated by a physical therapist or podiatrist to determine if there are problems with the musculoskeletal or neurological systems. Some gait issues are caused by injury, such as a stroke, or by a disease. People with gait problems need plenty of time for walking because their balance is challenged and may benefit from assistive devices like canes and walkers to prevent falls. 

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