28th May 2023

Walking Well and Avoiding Falls and Injury

Muscle strength and mobility

Walking is one of the few things we do in our lives, without thinking. Apart from taking us from A to B, it maintains muscle tone, and as a cardiovascular activity it helps keep our heart in good condition too. Our mobility also helps us maintain our independence which is key to our psychological well-being.

Did you know that we reach our peak musculature around the age of 25. From then on, we lose approximately 10% of our muscle capability every 10 years, or 1% per year. This decline in strength can have an impact on our ability to walk well.

Your core muscles, your glutes (backside) and all the muscles in the legs, work together to provide stability, support and control to the body whilst walking.

When we are younger, if we have a problem, we often compensate for that problem because we have reserves of strength and balance. As we get older, walking takes a lot more of our muscle capability. We don’t have that extra strength to help us overcome mobility issues, as we did when we were younger. This is when we begin to notice the effects of any issues that are developing.

Even without issues or problems, by the time we reach our 60s, we might potentially only have around half of the muscle strength that we had when we were 25.

The possibility of falling as we get older

Statistics show that one in 3 people over the age of 65 will experience a fall in the coming year! That reduces to one in 2 people experiencing a fall when over the age of 80! Falls can have life changing effects for an individual. Did you know that the NHS spends more than £3.2 billion per year on fallers over the age of 65?

Our work with the NHS, analysing people over the age of 65, has shown that most people do not necessarily have specific issues, but they have muscle degradation. We can see this because, often, we do not see issues where one leg is underperforming, we see issues where both legs are underperforming, albeit symmetrically. This is because the muscles have declined over the years.

We have had excellent success in identifying people with a bilateral issue, usually lack of muscle strength, improving their muscle strength, and optimising their gait. All in a matter of weeks.

Often, people tell us that they know they are not walking as well as they used to, and don’t feel as stable when walking. It is not always easy to pinpoint the problem so that we can begin to address it. It is natural for us to do things that make us feel safer.

Trying to control your walking

There are three common things that we do to try to control their walking.

  1. The first thing we do is to look at the floor to see where we are walking. However, this means that by tilting our head down to look at the floor, our weight has moved forward, and therefore it is more difficult to raise our foot higher, when walking. This means that we are more likely to trip, which is a major cause of falls.
  2. The second thing that we do is to take smaller steps as this feels safer. This means that the triangle formed between our feet and our pelvis, with our legs as the sides, has a much narrower base, than if our feet were further apart. You probably remember from school that an isosceles triangle is less stable than an equilateral triangle. It is just simple physics that weight can be distributed more easily, with a triangle that has similar length sides. Taking smaller steps will have an impact on balance and stability, which also contributes to falling.
  3. Thirdly, we slow down our walking to help control our mobility. We do this to feel more in control. This slower movement can have an effect on our centre of mass, making it more difficult to control the movement of our trunk. It also affects the relationship between our base of stability i.e., our feet on the floor and our trunk. Once again, this can affect stability and can lead to falls.

We do these three things to make ourselves feel safer, however, ironically, these three things are actually more liable to cause us to fall.

I’m not that old so it is not a problem for me

Mobility changes or issues can affect anybody at any age. It is very easy for us to get into bad walking habits. This could be because of a sport we play, or shoes that we wear, regularly carrying objects, or even just a movement that we find easier to do.

Catching this at an earlier age and optimising our gait with good ranges and good symmetry, will reduce the chances of us having mobility issues as we get older. Good symmetric movement can be instrumental in reducing wear on knee and hip joints, thereby helping reduce the potential for joint osteoarthritis.

We also need to remember that we walk everyday of our life. Some people manage to do their 10,000 steps per day. Unfortunately, if we are not walking well, we are doing 10,000 steps badly, which can have an impact on our hips and knees. The sooner we can improve this the better.

So, what can we do?

At STG Biomechanics, our gait analysis shows us exactly which areas of your gait need to be improved. You can then utilise exercises that specifically focus on the areas in question, while ensuring that they do not take you past your current exercise capability threshold. As an example, if you have a balance issue, because you have a lack of strength, we wouldn’t get you to do exercises that involve balancing, until we have built up your strength to make it safe to do so.

Our information can be acted upon by any physiotherapist or sports massage therapist as well as other healthcare practitioners.

Is your gait analysis accurate?

Our gait analysis is a very quick simple, non-invasive, procedure. We place six sensors over your clothing and get you to walk. We get all the information we need from just a few strides. Our gait system is a CE marked, category 1 medical device, with peer-reviewed publications, so you know the results are accurate.

I don’t have any mobility problems

You may not be in pain, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a problem. Sometimes our bodies can cope with minor issues but that doesn’t mean to say that they won’t develop into bigger issues in the future.

We often analyse people who have no problems that they are aware of, but just want to confirm that they are moving well, so that they can maintain best practices. Obviously, this would be beneficial for activities that involve movement e.g., sports, trekking, dancing etc., but it is just as beneficial for our everyday lives.

How long will it take to change the way I walk?

Muscles need time to change and adapt. Repetition of exercises will encourage the muscles to build and to develop in a way that supports good movement. This does not happen overnight, but can happen reasonably quickly, providing we maintain our exercises. We should begin to see changes over a 4-week period, and then we can fine tune further changes to optimise the way that we move. We would expect to see a much improved gait over a 12-week period.

Walking well, with good ranges of motion at our hips and knees along with good symmetry, is key to maintaining good mobility and avoiding falls and injuries.

Good mobility is key to a healthy body and mind.

If you would like to know more about our data analysis or have any other questions please feel free to send me an email at steve@stgbiomechanics.com

If you are a group that work with fallers and would like to know more about what we can offer, please get in touch.

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