Definition & Overview
Gait analysis is the study of human motion used in assessing and treating different conditions that impair the person’s ability to walk properly. It is also offered in specialized sports clinics to help athletes run and move efficiently and pain-free.
There are a number of factors that can affect gait pattern including intrinsic factors like weight, height, sex, and age as well as extrinsic factors such as footwear, clothing, and terrain. Other factors considered are emotions, personality, body proportion, and pathological factors such as neurological diseases and trauma.
During gait analysis, the motions of the ankles, knees, and hips are observed and quantified by various instruments to obtain a comprehensive understanding of any underlying conditions that affect an individual’s ability to walk properly. Physiological processes are also measured. This procedure is performed in gait laboratories where several specialized cameras and sensors are installed to facilitate data gathering.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Gait analysis is recommended for:
Patients with cerebral palsy and who suffered a stroke. Gait analyses are used to better understand the underlying conditions that lead to changes in the patient's gait pattern. It is also useful in assessing the efficacy of treatments these patients have received in the past. Once improvement is detected, physicians are also able to determine what type of physical therapy would work best for individual patients.
Elderly patients who experienced fall accidents. A gait analysis is used to determine the extent of damage as well as select the appropriate rehabilitation program for the patient. Gait analysis can also help detect underlying gait conditions that may not be detected by casual observation. An example would be difficulty walking in straight line, which may be indicative of cerebellar disease.
Patients who undergo total hip arthroplasty and total knee replacement - Gait analysis helps patients to understand their movement challenges and provides crucial data where an optimal program to restore near-normal locomotion can be based on.
Athletes - Gait analysis helps athletes improve their performance and optimize movements.
This procedure is also helpful for those suffering from sciatic nerve injury, myelopathy, and other muscle diseases, bone disorders, and those whose ability to walk is impaired by injury or trauma. Amputees are also advised to undergo gait analysis to determine pathological or abnormal gait using prostheses as this can provide insights on how to modify their movements to improve their locomotion.
Gait analysis is a relatively simple procedure offering valuable benefits for patients and useful information for their physical therapists. It is pain-free and does not involve any invasive procedures. Results, which are typically released after several weeks, are used to design physical therapy programs to address specific conditions discovered during the analysis. The results are also used to determine if a patient should continue undergoing the same treatment program or if invasive treatment options, such as orthopedic surgery, should be considered.
How is the Procedure Performed?
Gait analysis is typically comprised of several steps including a physical exam, video recording of gait, and a motion analysis. Patients are asked to wear loose clothing and if their condition requires, they are encouraged to bring any walking aid such as canes or braces. The procedure is usually conducted with the presence of one or more physical therapists, physicians, and a technician or engineer manning the instruments. During the procedure, the patients will be asked to:
Perform several motions and movements to assess their range of motion, muscle spasticity, strength, and alignment
Answer a set of questions, such as if they are experiencing pain or discomfort when performing certain movements
Walk on a platform or treadmill with electrode sensors attached to different parts of their body, especially the ankles, hip, pelvis, and knees, while being recorded at different angles
Wear a mask that measures oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide release. Infrared cameras that are connected to computers that collect and analyze data are also used. Muscle activity is also recorded using electromyography.
Walk on special flooring to assess plantar pressure.
The whole procedure usually takes several hours to complete, depending on the patient's capability and ease of performing the steps.
Possible Risks and Complications
There is a slight risk of overtaxing the patient during the procedure, especially those who have difficulty walking and moving in the first place. The use of treadmill may also cause minor injuries especially those unfamiliar with the equipment.
There are no known complications associated with this procedure.
Drewes LK, McKeon PO, Paolini G, et al. Altered ankle kinematics and shank-rear-foot coupling in those with chronic ankle instability. J Sport Rehabil. 2009 Aug. 18(3):375-88. [Medline].
Palm WM, Saczynski JS, van der Grond J, et al. Ventricular dilation: association with gait and cognition. Ann Neurol. 2009 May 11. 66(4):485-93.