Gait analysis, also known as walking or motion analysis, is a comprehensive evaluation of the way an individual stands and walks. The purpose of gait analysis is to detect any abnormalities in locomotion. An individual's gait is a combination of complex functions involving use of the body's visual, somatosensory and vestibular systems. Problems within any of these systems, as well as problems in the joints involved, can lead to postural and gait abnormalities. Gait analysis, as a noninvasive method of detection, is of great value in identifying certain medical conditions, determining whether further testing is required, and illuminating possible treatment options.
Reasons for Gait Analysis
Gait abnormalities involve unusual walking patterns that may be caused by disease or injury. Such irregularities can lead to pain in the hips, back, neck, feet, knees or ankles. Gait analysis may be used to:
- Identify the source of muscle, nerve or skeletal problems
- Discover the source of a patient's pain while standing or walking
- Diagnose bone deformities or skeletal misalignments
Gait analysis may also be used to monitor the progression of diseases such as arthritis or muscular dystrophy.
The Gait Analysis Procedure
The gait analysis procedure usually takes anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to complete. Patients must be able to take ten consecutive steps without any assistance in order for an effective evaluation to be performed. The patient is directed to walk or run on a treadmill for a specified amount of time. A podiatrist or physical therapist may simply watch the way a person moves, looking specifically at the feet, ankles, knees and hips. A video recorder may be set up behind the treadmill, to record film of the gait cycle.
Gait analysis, though sometimes performed through simple observation, is often performed with the help of advanced technology. By analyzing the data provided by several devices, the patient's gait can be evaluated in terms of step length, stride length, cadence, cycle time and joint angles. Clinical gait analysis uses several different methods, including:
- Computerized video cameras to show movement in slow motion
- Markers placed on the skin to monitor motion on camera
- Sensors on a platform to measure footstep pressure and stride length
- Electrodes placed on skin to monitor muscle movement
- Infrared markers to measure joint movement in three dimensions
Gait analysis is an effective method for evaluating any underlying causes for walking abnormalities, and determining an appropriate treatment plan. It is also commonly used in sports to help athletes run more efficiently, and to identify posture- or movement-related problems in people with injuries.