Do Australians move like Americans ? Does a woman in Israel move like a woman in Ireland ? Do Swedish men move differently than a rural farmer in Tibet ?
Sure there are many variables that come to mind that can drive differing answers; things like foot wear (winter boots, rugged rural shoes/boots to fashionable Manhattan), terrain, tight or loose clothing an so on. But the main question we are asking here is this: are there cultural and geographical differences in the way we walk devoid of issues related to climate, terrain, and fashion? In other words, because of our deeply rooted genetic codes that may have been slightly tweaked over the centuries, are there subtle differences in the way these different cultures walk and run ?
Recently we came across an internet article on a gait study “College walking study to capture the Essex swagger” being done at the Chelmsford University . Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University, in Bishops Hall Lane, are calling on people to help them capture “the Essex swagger”, which could help provide better treatment for UK patients. The gait analysis lab, at the university’s postgraduate medical institute, is a replica of the one at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, the leading hospital for orthopaedics in the United State so one might assume this is no meager investigation.
He believes establishing a local database will allow more accurate testing and analysis of patients, ranging from burns victims to those who have just undergone hip or knee surgery.
Dr Rajshree Mootanah, director of the university’s medical engineering research group mentioned that “When we are working with patients it is important to have a reference database of ‘normal’ gait to compare them to. The only database we have is of the New York population and we believe there may be slight, but still significant, differences to the way our local population walks due to the different racial make-up of the two groups.”
So the bigger question is in fact, are geographic and/or cultural differences present significant enough to warrant different baselines for gait studies ? This question had us looking deeper into the research. Unfortunately there is not much in the literature on transcultural movement differences but what we did find was supportive of our hypothesis. To keep this blog article within readable limits for now, we have included the two journal articles we wanted to mention to support the hypothesis. In Ebersbach’s study (references below) the
“healthy subjects in Berlin showed faster gait velocity than their counterparts in Tyrol, Austria, and patients with Parkinson’s disease were slightly slower than their respective healthy peers in both environments”.
Surprisingly, his study found that patients with Parkinson’s disease from Berlin had significantly faster walking speeds than both patients and healthy control subjects from Tyrol. There was a high gait tempo in Parkinsonian patients from Berlin characterized by fast step-rates and short strides. Thus, it appeared that in Ebersbach’s study there were sociocultural differences in gait, even in disease processes such as Parkinson’s disease. This certainly opens ones eyes into the understanding of disease. After all, we thought that a disease was a disease, not matter what part of the world you are in. And this study shows that this may not be the case.
In Al-Obaidi’s study the gait of healthy young adult Kuwaiti subjects from both genders were compared those in Sweden. The study indicated several significant differences between the subjects in their manner of walking regarding walking at “free, slow and fast” rates.
Both of these studies suggest that people move differently from each other around the world, and surprisingly, even differently from within the disease group of “movement impairment syndromes”. People in Australia move different from those in England, Canada, Germany, Sudan etc. it suggests that our gait is as unique as our language and as subtle as an accent within a common tongue. The studies also suggest that if the gait world is to expand further in terms of research that multi cross-cultural data bases must be built.
Shawn and Ivo, The Gait Guys.
Two geeks looking for the missing links in how humans move.
Mov Disord. 2000 Nov;15(6):1145-7. Sociocultural differences in gait. Ebersbach G, Sojer M, Müller J, Heijmenberg M, Poewe W. Source
Fachkrankenhaus für Bewegungsstörungen/Parkinson, Beelitz-Heilstätten, Germany.
Transcultural differences in routine motor behavior and movement disorders have rarely been assessed. In the present study gait was studied in 47 healthy inhabitants of Tyrol living in rural or semi-urban (Innsbruck, Austria) settings and 43 healthy subjects residing in Berlin, Germany. In addition, gait was assessed in 23 patients in early stages of idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (11 in Berlin, 12 in Innsbruck). Healthy subjects in Berlin showed faster gait velocity than their counterparts in Tyrol, and patients with Parkinson’s disease were slightly slower than their respective healthy peers in both environments. Surprisingly, patients with Parkinson’s disease from Berlin had significantly faster walking speeds than both patients and healthy control subjects from Tyrol. High gait tempo in parkinsonian patients from Berlin was characterized by fast step-rates and short strides. Differences in normal gait in different sociocultural settings are thus reflected in parkinsonian slowing of gait.
J Rehabil Res Dev. 2003 Jul-Aug;40(4):361-6. Basic gait parameters: a comparison of reference data for normal subjects 20 to 29 years of age from Kuwait and Scandinavia. Al-Obaidi S, Wall JC, Al-Yaqoub A, Al-Ghanim M. Source
Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, Kuwait University, Kuwait.
This study obtained measurements of the spatiotemporal gait parameters of healthy young adult Kuwaiti subjects from both genders and compared the data to those collected in a similar study performed in Sweden. Thirty healthy subjects volunteered to participate in the study (which included being asked to walk at their “free,” “slow,” and “fast” self-selected speeds). We collected the spatiotemporal gait data using an automated system. Descriptive statistics were calculated for each variable measured at each walking condition. The data were then compared to those from the Swedish study. The results indicate several significant differences between Kuwaiti and Swedish subjects in their manner of walking. These results suggest a need to include data from subjects with diverse cultural backgrounds when a database on normal gait is developed or a need to limit the results of the database to a specified ethnic population.