Walking is a seemingly simple activity that we perform daily without much thought. However, beneath its surface lies a complex biomechanical process known as the gait cycle. Understanding the phases of gait and the importance of foot stability can shed light on how our bodies move efficiently, maintain overall health, and improve quality of life.


The Phases of Gait

Because we have two legs ,the gait cycle can be broken down into two main phases: the stance phase and the swing phase.

Stance Phase:

Heel Strike: The gait cycle begins when the heel of the leading foot makes initial contact with the ground. This phase absorbs shock and initiates forward motion.
Midstance: As the body weight shifts over the planted foot, the foot remains flat on the ground, stabilizing the body.
Toe-Off: The final portion of the stance phase involves pushing off the ground with the toes, propelling the body forward.

Swing Phase:

Initial Swing: After toe-off, the foot begins to swing forward, clearing the ground.
Mid-swing: The foot continues its forward trajectory, preparing to make contact with the ground again.
Terminal Swing: The swing phase ends with the foot preparing to re-engage with the ground, setting the stage for the next stance phase.


Importance of Foot Function

Foot function plays a pivotal role in ensuring an efficient and pain-free gait cycle. Here are several reasons why it’s crucial:

Balance and Posture: The stability of your feet directly impacts your balance and posture during walking. A stable foundation allows for controlled weight transfer from one leg to the other, reducing the risk of falls or missteps. Balance is a delicate process mediated by our nervous system, and can be influenced by many outside factors.

Shock Absorption: The initial heel strike in the stance phase is when the foot absorbs the impact of your body weight hitting the ground. Proper foot stability and gait helps distribute this force evenly, preventing excess stress on joints and tissues. Many ailments in athletes such as shin splints and knee pain can be a direct result of an improper heel strike.

Mobility of Joints: A stable foot helps maintain proper function of the ankle, knee, and hip joints. When the foot isn’t functioning properly, it can lead to overpronation (rolling inward) or supination (rolling outward), which can result in joint pain and other issues. Usage of all the toes, strengthening the small muscles of the foot, and usage of functional footwear are great methods to prevent foot dysfunction.

Muscle Function and Efficiency: When the foot is functioning properly, the muscles and tendons in the foot and lower leg work together more efficiently. This reduces the risk of muscle fatigue, strains, and other overuse injuries. Slight changes in the foot and ankle can be magnified into larger injuries because ideally we should be taking thousands of steps a day.

Foot Conditions and Pathologies: Dysfunction in the foot can contribute to or exacerbate various slow developing conditions like plantar fasciitis, bunions, and Achilles tendinitis. The function of the foot and ankle is also imperative for reducing the likelihood of traumatic injuries such as ankle sprains. Addressing foot stability and function. can be a key component of treatment and prevention.


Improving Foot Function

Proper Footwear: Wearing shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning can greatly enhance foot function. Everyone’s foot is a different size and shape, and all of our lifestyle demands are different. So there is no one-size fits all approach to finding a good functional shoe, however it is worth the effort to find one right for you.  Recently the use of a shoe with a wide toe box has become increasingly popular for functional footwear.

Strengthening Exercises: Specific exercises that target the muscles of the foot and lower leg can help improve stability. These may include toe curls, calf raises, and resistance band exercises. Even walking around the house barefoot is a simple way to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of our feet.

Toe Spacers: Due to many shoes containing an extremely narrow toe box for style reasons, people are experiencing changes in the foot due to overcrowding of the toes. Toe spacers are an inexpensive and effective way to combat those changes. Combined with a wide toe box shoe these are a more functional approach to foot health. You can check out our previous blog on wide-toe box shoes here

Professional Evaluation: Come see us! Chiropractors treat a variety of health conditions that stem from the musculoskeletal system. That includes feet and ankles. We want you to receive the best care possible for your feet so talk to your trusted healthcare provider or give us a call at 325-617-2865.