Every carefully watched someone else walking? If you do, you’ll notice that no two people do it exactly the same. You may take longer or shorter strides. Your feet may turn slightly out or slightly in at impact. Countless tiny factors contribute toward creating your gait.
While all walking gaits are different, some are more mechanically sound than others. If you find your gait to be unbalanced, unsteady, or wobbly, it may be time to have a podiatrist like Dr. Harvey Danciger take a closer look at your feet and legs. Treatments are available to help you alter your form and regain some stability.
A Brief Look at the Gait Cycle
Every time you take a step, your feet going through a complicated series of maneuvers designed to propel you forward as efficiently as possible. Leg 1 pushes while Leg 2 lifts, swings, and falls, then the process reverses and repeats.
Zooming in just on the foot as it makes contact with the ground reveals more complexity. The heel strikes first, followed by the rest of the foot. As you shift your weight forward, the foot rolls outward and the arch flattens to absorb and cushion your weight. Finally, after the weight passes over the center of your foot, the heel lifts again, with the toe the last part to leave the ground as the leg swings forward again.
Why Your Gait Isn’t Steady
Damage, diseases, and biomechanical inefficiencies can all cause the gait cycle to function in a less than optimal way. An abnormal gait may lead to instability, with a higher risk of falling or injury.
Unsteady gait can be caused by a very wide number of issues, including:
- Temporary injuries like sprains or strains, as well as chronic problems arising from several ankles or sprains that aren’t treated correctly (lateral ankle instability).
- Weakened muscles, tendons, or supporting structures in the ankle or lower leg, as can happen due to aging and/or lack of exercise.
- Inherited mechanical issues, such as flat feet, high arches, overpronation (in which feet roll too far outward during weight transfer), underpronation (in which they don’t roll enough), tight Achilles tendons, and otherwise.
- Diseases or neurological conditions affecting the lower limbs, such a foot drop (which prevents you from lifting the front of your foot) or diabetic neuropathy.
- Vestibular (inner ear) or brain conditions that affect sense of balance
Finding Your Footing Again
When you visit Dr. Danciger, he’ll perform a thorough evaluation, which will include a physical exam as well as any other testing or analysis deemed necessary, including a close observation of your feet and legs as you walk. This is crucial—determining the underlying cause of your unsteady gait will help determine which treatment methods will be the most effective.
For unsteadiness caused by weakened support structures, a policy of strength training, balance exercises, and if necessary a balance brace can help you stay upright and prevent falls. Remember that balance is a skill that can be improved with practice and training.
If injury or illness is the root of your problem, then you need treatment for the underlying cause. Our office offers both conservative and surgical treatments for a wide variety of gait-affecting issues, including sprains, strains, foot drop, neuropathy, and more.
Often times, simply having a lot of pain can destabilize gait. Laser therapy and other pain-relieving strategies such as anti-inflammatory medications or injections can get you back to full strength.
Mechanical flaws, such as flat feet or overpronation, are often best treated through the use of a custom orthotic—designed to match your exact foot specifications—which can correct for abnormal motion and keep your feet moving in a more balanced, efficient gait. However, in some cases surgery might be called for, for example to fix a collapsed arch.
Although the possible causes and treatments are wide and varied, the good news is that there’s almost always something that can be done. And if something can be done, Dr. Harvey Danciger is doing it. To schedule an appointment at our Palm Desert, CA office, please call us today at 760-568-0108.