Walk This Way, Master

July 26, 2012

The title of this month`s column is a line spoken by Marty Feldman in the classic movie Young Frankenstein.  I borrowed it to introduce a way of exercise walking that I highly recommend.  It`s called a two point reciprocal gait and it involves using 2 canes, (or hiking poles, walking sticks, etc) while ambulating.  Each cane is advanced in line with the opposite leg so that the tip of the walking stick makes contact with the ground at the exact moment as the opposite foot.  Click on Video 1 to demonstrate this gait, and note the two points of ground contact with each step.

The advantages of exercise walking this way are many:

  1. A better all-around aerobic exercise.

All four extremities are engaged in weight bearing, important for maintaining bone mineralization and muscle/tendon strength.  Most exercise regimes neglect the upper extremities (traditional walking, running, biking, etc) in favor of the lower extremities. The two point gait walking requires all four limbs to participate equally.

  1. A stable form of exercise.

With regular walking, one`s base of support is limited to the area within the foot print.  Ambulating with a two point gait enlarges this base to an area that includes the footprint and the tip of the cane. This broader support base makes for a safer, more balanced gait. This style of walking is particularly well suited to uneven terrain where, if a stumble occurs, the two canes can be used to prevent a fall.

  1.  A gait pattern that protects a sore leg.

There are many common painful conditions that affect the lower extremities (arthritis, bursitis, tendinopathies, strains, etc.) and limit one`s ability to exercise.  One can “protect” the sore limb by shifting part of that weight onto the opposite cane. In other words, when the sore leg makes ground contact, part of that force can be transferred to the cane in the opposite hand.

If the two point gait doesn`t diminish the pain adequately, it can be modified to reduce further the strain on the injured leg.  This is done by switching to a three point gait.   In this gait pattern, both canes make ground contact with the sore leg at the same time resulting in maximal unloading.   Click on Video 2 for a demonstration and note the three points of ground contact as the two canes bracket the affected limb.

Regular exercise is important not only for the young and healthy but also for those with chronic ailments.  Two point reciprocal walking is effective and safe, and allows one to continue to exercise even with a disability.