Footprints Don't Lie

Finally!!! After months of freakishly hot weather and drought, we had one day of glorious rain. Not just a little sprinkle, either, but downpours on and off throughout the day, accompanied by some serious thunder and lightning. While I'll be glad to see the sun again soon, I'm also greatly enjoying this cool respite.

Rainy day walk at the Japanese garden. The koi don't mind the wet weather.

Rainy day walk at the Japanese garden. The koi don't mind the wet weather.

One of the many things that I like about walking in the rain is looking at the footprints I leave as I walk across a dry patch of ground under a covered area. The orientation of your footprints can tell you a lot about the alignment and health of your body. They're a good reality check - unless you're consciously altering the way you walk with every step you take (how exhausting would that be??), they'll show you what's really going on when you walk.

Reading Your Prints

Here are a few typical foot print patterns. In the left-hand photo, the toes are turned way out. Not only is this an inefficient way to walk energy-wise, but it also applies unnatural forces to the foot joints and knees with every step. Perhaps surprisingly, these type of prints DON'T mean that you need to rotate your things inward (most of us already do too much of that!). Rather, the outward movement of the toes happens when the shank (lower leg) becomes externally rotated and/or torqued to compensate for less than ideal alignment and strength in the hips. Do you suffer from bunions or knee pain? It's possible that this could be one of the causes. 

Left: Toes turned too far out - no good for the foot and knee joints! Middle: Feet are too close to the midline  - also no good for the knees, not to mention the hips. Right: Getting closer...feet are relatively straight ahead and closer to pelvis-width apart (the ideal).

Left: Toes turned too far out - no good for the foot and knee joints! Middle: Feet are too close to the midline  - also no good for the knees, not to mention the hips. Right: Getting closer...feet are relatively straight ahead and closer to pelvis-width apart (the ideal).

The middle set of prints is looking a little better at first glance. The feet are pointing straight ahead, so all good, right? Not quite. Notice how one foot is almost directly in front of the other, like walking on a tightrope? This is a good indication of weak lateral (outer) hip muscles. When you're walking like this, instead of using the strength of these muscles to hold you up, you're basically falling onto the ligaments in your hip and knee joints with each step. It also prevents the bones from being loaded correctly, which can contribute to hip osteoporosis. If you want medial (inner) knee pain or a hip replacement, you should definitely avoid strengthening your lateral hip muscles and keep walking like this!

Finally, the right-hand set of prints was created when I wasn't trying to alter my gait at all. Since starting Restorative Exercise, my feet have become MUCH straighter (I imagine that pre-RE, my prints looked pretty similar to those in the left-hand photo). They're still a little closer together than they probably should be, but they're getting there! Interestingly, the knee pain that used to bug me from time to time is totally gone. I literally don't remember the last time I felt it, though I'd guess it was shortly after starting my RE practice.

Now that you know some of the distinguishing characteristics of different gait patterns and their potential meanings, here's wishing you a rainy day in the near future! (And if there's no rain in the forecast, try this on a nice sunny beach or dusty trail.)