What You Need to Know About the Phases of Gait
For optimized human performance, understanding the phases of gait is key
As humans, the way we walk, step and run is far more than a personalized way of moving. When measured and analyzed properly, the details of a person’s gait give us valuable data. Monitoring gait can point to health impacts, from the likelihood of developing diabetic ulcers to optimizing elite athletics’ performance.
Simply put, gait matters — and finding ways to measure it effectively can create improvements for your practice.
Understanding what comprises gait, along with the detailed phases of gait and actions leading up to them, is essential for creating effective treatment plans for patients of all kinds.
What is gait?
The true definition of gait is simple: gait is a person’s manner or style of walking (or running). With comprehensive health in mind, the particularities of one’s gait take on more significance. Gait involves the way someone moves, whether walking, jogging or running. From the speed of the walk all the way to the method of the movement itself, gait showcases everything from neurological readiness to a person’s level of athleticism, making it an essential piece of many health assessments.
There are several components to gait itself, from stance and swing phases to walking and running phases. Comprehensive gait analysis looks at factors including body weight, heel strike, contact with the ground and gait pattern.
Why is gait important?
Human movement itself is explained in the Neuromechanics of Human Movement as “how the nervous system controls the actions of muscles to exert forces on their surroundings and thereby produce movement.” It’s a complex system involving several subtasks, from complementary tasks where muscles generate and absorb energy to competitive tasks where muscles help to control balance and vertical collapse in the body. This all comes down to gait.
The events that occur from heel strike to heel strike, known as the gait cycle, play a crucial role in human performance (as well as simpler human movement). A person’s gait, which is quite literally the alternating heel strike to heel strike on each side of the leg, can help diagnose any number of issues. By focusing on the importance of gait and then analyzing it with precision, biomechanics researchers, clinicians, physical therapists and other healthcare professionals will be equipped with information to solve a host of problems.
Primary phases of gait
There are two primary phases of gait: the stance phase and the swing phase. In walking the stance phase, which accounts for about 65% of gait movement, the person’s body weight is concentrated mainly on one leg. The swing phase, which accounts for about 35% of the gait movement, involves the change between each leg that naturally occurs during activities like walking or running. Understanding these phases, from knee flexion through to heel strike, is essential for a thorough analysis.
Photo courtesy of Perry, J. (1992)
Phases of Gait: Stance Phase
To the casual observer, the act of taking a step seems simply to be moving one’s foot forward. In reality, that basic movement, beginning with the stance phase, is quite complex and comprises four main processes: the loading response, midstance, terminal stance and pre-swing.
With the loading response, the foot makes initial contact with the ground — typically heel first, though this can show gait issues in itself — while the alternate leg poised to swing next remains on the ground. In midstance, the body’s center of gravity is directly over the moving foot, before moving to the supporting foot in the terminal stance as the heel makes its way off the ground and into pre-swing.
Phases of Gait: Swing Phase
Swing phase—the actions taken by one’s mind and body when swinging a foot down to make initial contact with the ground—is just as complex. The swing phase’s notable steps start with the initial swing and continue along to knee flexion, midswing, and terminal swing.
Beginning once the toe is off the ground — literally known as “toe-off”— the initial swing ends once maximum knee flexion has been reached. Midswing is the time between maximum knee flexion, lasting until the tibia is perpendicular to the ground. The terminal swing begins at this point, ending at the foot makes initial contact with the ground.
Other factors for understanding gait
Once you have a foundational understanding of these phases, measuring time and speed come into play. The timing of one’s walking and running phases can help understand the neurological, physical and physiological processes themselves.
The way that the foot hits the ground when walking or running can also give important information. From the heel strike to the toe-off, people simply walk and run differently — and that variation in gait style can point to issues ranging from center of gravity imbalances and hip misalignment all the way to knee flexion issues or off-balanced weight-bearing. Since gait helps to absorb shock and keep the body making contact with the ground at the right speed, measuring it matters in both walking and running.
XSENSOR: Technology for measuring gait
XSENSOR has developed gait-measuring technology that sets an industry standard for excellence. We understand that assessing and analyzing gait is a crucial tool across all forms of medicine.
Our proprietary sensor technology allows for greater gait measurement and assessment than any industry competitor, outperforming in both accuracy and detail. Our durable high-resolution sensors, made specifically for measuring gait, hold up to the strenuous testing required by gait researchers, podiatrists and physical therapists, and our Pro Foot & Gait Software is imagery and data-rich with easy to use tools and comprehensive analysis.
Sensor resolution and accuracy are crucial to measuring and analyzing gait correctly. Our on-shoe electronics are compact, and the sensors are ultra-thin (with insoles measuring at less than 2mm), making it virtually undetectable, allowing for natural gait while providing the ability for complete and total analysis for both research and athletic performance. Our insoles themselves are proven to be hard-wearing with reliable data, showing 5% or less full-scale error after 100,000 loading cycles.
Each of XSENSOR’s product offerings features dynamic sensing that maintains both flexibility and accuracy. These include:
- intelligent insole sensors,
- walkway sensor, and
- stance pad sensor
Whichever product you choose, this technology will help you disseminate gait data in a way that works for you, for your providers, and most importantly, for your patients’ wellbeing.