You might not think it, but how you walk matters.
I’m serious. Walking right is one of the simplest and most important ways to keep your knees, hips, and back from hurting.
There are many different ways to walk, but not all of them keep you from pain and enable you to walk long distances without tiring. Some people pound their feet into the ground as if they are soldiers. Others strut or sway, imitating gangsters and performers, trying to look cool. But, as unique as these walking styles are, they are cheap replacements for the way you were born to walk, and certainly don’t help your body hurt less.
I’ve been watching the way people walk for 20 years. I’ve found that, as I watch a patient walk into my office, I often can figure out exactly where their problem is. The way they shift their weight, which direction they lean, and how they pick up and put down their feet are all indicators of where they are experiencing pain. My wife and I are both physical therapists and have a bad habit of staring at strangers while they walk, analyzing where their problems are. And then, we end up arguing: me saying it’s a knee problem, my wife thinking it’s an ankle problem. My children get embarrassed and wish we wouldn’t. But, honestly, it’s a habit now: our jobs are literally to watch the way people walk.
In my opinion, there are a thousand different ways to walk, but only one way that is efficient.
And, strange as it may sound, our best teacher is actually a baby learning to walk.
You likely don’t remember how you first walked. Afterall, you were tiny. But, undoubtedly, at some point you have seen babies toddling about, whether they were your own kids or someone else’s. You’ve seen how they don’t look down, but straight ahead. They stand up tall and fall forward, catching themselves by taking a step. They have been practicing for months: lifting their head, kicking their legs, and crawling, strengthening their neck, core, and back muscles. All of this is preparation for holding themselves upright and walking.
This idea, that the act of walking is falling forward and catching oneself by stepping on an outstretched leg, is a well-researched one. Walking is not about the art of stepping but about shifting your entire body weight from one side to the other using forward momentum.
I encourage you to walk like a baby. Use your core and back muscles to hold yourself upright and look straight in front of you. Engage all of your senses, aware of what each part of your body feels like. You will be able to identify where your leg is and whether your knee is bent or straight without even looking at it. As you fall forward and catch yourself with your steps, you will be able to feel how your weight moves through your feet, how it passes from your heel to the middle of your foot to your big toe. Your weight will pass from one side of your body to the other with each subsequent step, forward momentum swinging your legs almost effortlessly. Listen to your steps, noticing how quiet they are now. You aren’t pounding the ground anymore but gliding forward, and doing so will significantly relieve the amount of pain you experience.
Walking isn’t complicated: it’s simply falling forward and catching yourself with your steps.
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