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The Gait Cycle

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Updated August 03, 2007

Gait is the medical term to describe human locomotion, or the way that we walk. Interestingly, every individual has a unique gait pattern. A person’s gait can be greatly affected by injury or disease process. By evaluating the gait pattern of an individual, a therapist can determine specific weaknesses and adjust rehabilitation programs to address these issues.

The gait cycle is used to describe the complex activity of walking, or our gait pattern. This cycle describes the motions from initial placement of the supporting heel on the ground to when the same heel contacts the ground for a second time.

The gait cycle is divided into two phases:

1) Stance -- defined as the interval in which the foot is on the ground (60% of the gait cycle)
2) Swing -- defined as the interval in which the foot is not in contact with the ground (40% of the gait cycle)

During evaluation of the gait cycle, a physical therapist further assesses each portion of these two phases.

Stance is divided into four phases:
1) Heel strike to foot flat
2) Foot flat through midstance
3) Midstance through Heel off
4) Heel off to Toe off

Swing is divided into two phases:
1) Acceleration to midswing
2) Midswing to deceleration

By evaluating each individual phase of the gait cycle, a physical therapist obtains clues into specific muscular weaknesses and shortening. Addressing these issues in a rehabilitation program will lead to a more efficient gait pattern, resulting in decreased risk of injury, less energy expenditure, greater functional independence, and improved muscular balance.

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