In 1983, the musical group Police had a hit record (for anyone younger than 30, music used to be played on little discs called “records”) which could be the theme song for the newest addition to the Texas Back Institute’s arsenal in the fight against back pain – The Gait Lab.
Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.
~ Sting (album “Synchronicity”)
“In its simplest terms ‘gait’ means walking,” noted Dr. Isador Lieberman, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute. “It’s how we all get from point A to point B.”
“By virtue of the fact that we are all different – leg lengths differ, overall height differ, body shape differ – we all walk a little bit differently. However we all do have some common characteristics including cadence, muscle pattern and arm swing as examples,” he said.
Every Step You Take
A typical individual will walk between 2,500 and 15,000 steps every day. If any one of those individuals has a biomechanical foot dysfunction, the resulting abnormal movement and function can and will alter gait, putting stress and strain on muscles, bones, and joints in regions of the body remote to the foot.
When this altered gait is repeated day after day, week after week and year after year, it ultimately weakens muscles and joints, causing pain, arthritis and increased susceptibility to injury.
Back injuries can result from foot dysfunction or limping caused by leg, ankle or foot injuries. It is, for this reason, Texas Back Institute conceived of and developed its state-of-the-art Gait Lab.
How Does One’s Gait Affect Back Pain Issues?
“The way we move can easily affect spinal issues,” Dr. Lieberman notes. “Likewise spinal issues can affect the way we move. If for example you have a stiff or arthritic hip and cannot swing the hip through the full swing phase while walking, your stiff hip forces an earlier and non-symmetrical transfer of force to the spine which can trigger pain in vulnerable patients.”
As Donald A. Ozello notes in an article for the fitness website Livestrong, “Limping can be the origin of back pain or a symptom of back pain. Limping occurs when pain, symptoms or weakness in the back or lower extremity alters your gait. The leg on the injured side is not functioning correctly, so it lacks its proper movement pattern. This causes other areas of the body to compensate, which leads to uneven stress or a larger than normal workload.”
Wounded Warriors Can Experience Excessive Gait Dysfunction
By Mark Heeter (USAG Schweinfurt) (United States Army) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
National Public Radio combat reporter David Wood noted on the program Fresh Air, “Fewer U.S. troops die outright on the battlefield — because of protective equipment and better medical care. But more Americans are being wounded, and their injuries are more ‘severe and complex.’ The number of American soldiers who lost at least one limb doubled from 2009 to 2010, and the number of triple amputees has nearly doubled,” he says.
How does this loss of an arm or leg impact a patient’s gait? Dennis Deal had a leg and an arm amputated after his fight with bone infections in 1989. His leg prosthesis was ill-fitting and this made it difficult for him to walk.
“I’m with Dr. Cable in the TBI Gait lab,” Dennis said. “We decided to see if the video and written report could help the prosthesis company make a better limb for me. It was really a very interesting experience. Since I also lost one of my arms, along with my leg, I have no arm-swing and this further complicates my ability to walk.”
Dr. Lieberman notes, “As good as prosthetic limbs are today, no prosthesis can fully replicate the normal gait pattern and muscle function. However, advances in sensor technology, biomaterial composites, and exoskeleton robotics will without a doubt get those who have lost a limb close to normal.”
If you or a family member are experiencing back pain, it could be related to gait. At TBI we now have the ability to measure and evaluate the way you walk and how it affects your spine health.