The right way to walk

Jason Adour/Maine Strong Balance Center

Jason Adour is a physical therapist at Maine Strong Balance Center in Scarborough, Maine. As the name implies, he helps people improve their balance. Strong balance equals less risk of falling.

One of the things he has people work on is walking properly. If you think walking is walking, you’ve got it wrong.

The proper way is for your heel to strike the floor first. It can be more challenging with age. Things like degenerative changes and arthritis in the knees can make people a bit more flat-footed. When that happens, it can cause problems from the foot on up.

When they hit with a flat foot, their knee is then flexed, so it takes on different forces than it was designed to take, which then goes up into the hip and the back differently and could lead to a cascade effect.

Jason Adour, Physical Therapist

Kathleen Morlock, an intern at the Center, demonstrates how we should walk.

Another problem some people encounter is that they’ll catch their toe when they’re swinging their foot as they walk. I’ve had that happen to me before.

How can you perfect your walk and your swing? Jason recommends that you practice walking like Kathleen does in the video — focus on the heel strike.

He also has some easy exercises that should help. First up, about 90 percent of the people he sees have tight calves.

If the calf muscle is not long enough, not loose enough, when you come through the swing phase of your gait you can have trouble with clearance because the tightness here has a tendency to pull your foot backward.

Calf stretch demonstration

A basic runner’s stretch — which Kathleen demonstrates in the picture — will help loosen up those calf muscles.

Another issue is that the front of the legs need strengthening.

As you’re coming through, again, in the swing phase of gait, you’ve got to be long enough in the calf, but also strong enough in the front so you can pull the toes up.

The exercise he recommends for strengthening the muscle in the front of the leg (called the anterior tibialis) is a toe raise.

As you get older, it’s true that you’re usually not as flexible as you once were, but Jason says he would like to reframe the conversation about aging.

There has been this sense of fatalism with aging that things will get tight or things will get weaker and generally speaking, that’s true anatomically.

However, the body of evidence is overwhelming and very clear that you can change some things. It takes some effort and there are certain things we can’t change completely. But boy, just about anybody can strengthen and stretch.

So … let’s strengthen and stretch together. One, two, three and up. Do those toe raises, stretch the calves and go for a walk, even if it’s just around the house. Remember, heels down first. And before long, you just might be clicking them together!

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.