The dawn of a new year offers an opportunity to make health and wellness a priority for the days ahead, and for many, 2021 will be no exception. If there is a silver lining to the tumult and uncertainty of the past year, it’s that our understanding of what contributes to overall health has grown tremendously. The ongoing pandemic has illuminated some overlooked factors in wellness, from the social connections that matter to the amount of time spent in the sun. And the healthcare community has also been making great strides in helping people achieve better health with the help of an often neglected vital sign: gait.
During the pandemic our lifestyle has changed tremendously. We spend more time at home — we work from home, our favorite restaurants and shops are closed — and when we do go out we’re keeping our distance from those around us. For many of us, our dietary routine has changed and we are less active than before which can ultimately lead to a deterioration in physical and mental health.
However, with just a little bit of effort — and a pair of shoes — you can change your lifestyle by better understanding your gait.
What is gait? And how does it impact your health?
Gait, in simple words, is your manner of walking, and an increasing amount of research shows that it is a significant predictor of overall — and ongoing — health. Your gait is a function of how mobile you are, which means it’s connected to virtually every system in your body. That’s what makes it such a useful measure of health. And that’s why gait is often called the sixth vital sign.
Health care professionals can tell a lot about a person’s health from their gait, hence it is likely that people with neurologic, muscular, or skeletal problems will undergo an observational gait analysis as part of their physical evaluation. Think about your blood pressure. Alone, it doesn’t reveal the complete story about your health. But high blood pressure can tell your level of risk for a number of negative future health events, like heart attacks and strokes. And it becomes an even more helpful measure when used in combination with other health indicators.
Similarly, your gait can tell a lot about your health and functional status. Gait and walking speed serve as clinical indicators for wellbeing and longevity. Walking speed can predict a number of future health events, from functional decline and falls to hospitalization and mortality. And a recent study found a strong link between reduced walking speed and accelerated rates of aging in otherwise healthy adults in their 40s.
So how can your gait change? Simply put, the body responds to pain. Mechanoreceptors detect pain and send signals to the brain to compensate and adjust the movement pattern to avoid pain. This is one of the reasons why our gait pattern changes when we suffer from lower extremity (such as your knee) pain. We avoid weight bearing when possible and we reduce our velocity and step length to avoid pain. In some cases, we will notice some changes in gait symmetry, indicating the one limb is more painful than the other. Understanding gait deviations might help us understand the level of severity and could help us choose the appropriate treatment.
Gait analysis isn’t just for runners anymore — how technology is making it accessible to everyone.
Gait analysis is a tool for understanding the way the human body moves. Runners have long used it to improve performance, relieve pain and reduce the risk of injury. In the recent past, that meant visiting specialty running shops for a professional gait analysis. Today, it’s easier than ever for anyone to access the benefits of gait analysis from the comfort of their own home.
Whether you are looking to improve your mobility, address a chronic pain issue or just interested in getting a picture of your overall health, biometric technology puts the power of gait analysis in your hands — and it starts with your feet. Similar to the fitness tracker you may already be wearing on your wrist, biometric devices and sensors that collect key data about your body’s movements can be attached to or embedded within your footwear.
Tech giants like Apple and Google have begun to recognize the potential of gait analysis. Apple recently updated its signature Apple Watch to include metrics that measure gait quality. And Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is reportedly looking to develop shoes with sensors embedded to track users’ gait, walking speed, weight and other metrics.
Having problems with your gait?
If you’re struggling with mobility issues, gait modification treatment may help. Consider making a New Year’s resolution to talk to your primary care provider about treatment options. There are a number of medical, surgical and biomechanical treatment options for gait-related pain. But there are also non-invasive treatment options, like AposHealth®, that can tackle the root causes of pain, improve body mechanics and muscular function, and don’t require disruptions to daily routines.
To date, AposHealth® has been used by more than 100,000 patients globally, to temporarily reduce pain, improve walking patterns, and elevate quality of life. Backing it up are more than 60 publications in peer reviewed journals, including a recent publication in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showing 83% of knee osteoarthritis patients treated with AposHealth® reported more than a 50% temporary reduction in pain compared to 42% in an active control group.
To learn more about AposHealth®, visit: https://www.aposhealth.co.uk/.
Ganit Segal, MPE, is the Chief Scientific Officer at AposHealth®. She holds a master’s degree in life science, with a specialization in biomechanics and has more than 15 years of experience in medical research. She has over 35 publications in peer-review journals and substantial experience in scientific reviews, including global clinical trends and guidelines, comparative analysis, and more.