Looking for the subtle clues will help you. You should have hypotheses and work to prove or disprove them. 

“Remember, this client is displaying these weight bearing differences side to side for a reason, this is their adaptive strategy. It is your job to prove that this is the cause of their pain, their adaptive strategy to get out of pain, or this is now a failed adaptive strategy causing pain, yet still not the root of the problem.”

We used to call this a “windswept” presentation. It is not that it is incorrect, but it is so vague.  

Look at these fippy floppers. Look closely at the dark areas, where foot oils and whatnot have played their changes in the leather upper of the flops. The right f.flop displays more lateral heel loading, rear foot inversion if you will. You can even see that there is less big toe pressure on this right side and even some increased lateral forefoot loading. This client appears to be more supinated clearly. You can even see there is more lightness to the arch leather on the right, again, more supination is suggested.

The left f.flop suggests the opposite. More medial heel pressures and more over the medial forefoot and arch. 

Now this clients f.flops tell a story.  So, this client is being windswept to the right we used to say, appearing to pronate more on the left and supinating more on the right.  Why are they doing this? Is the left leg functionally longer and by pronating they reduce the functional length of the leg (yet, increase internal spin of the limb and the host of naughty things that come with that). Is the right leg shorter, and by supinating they are raising the ankle mortise and arch which helps reduce the length differential ?  MAybe a bit of both, finding common ground for a more symmetrical pelvis ?  Who knows. This is where you need your physical exam, but, now you have some hypotheses to prove or disprove. 

“Remember, this client is displaying these weight bearing differences side to side for a reason, this is their adaptive strategy. It is your job to prove that this is the cause of their pain, their adaptive strategy to get out of pain, or this is now a failed adaptive strategy causing pain, yet still not the root of the problem.”

Is there some right hip pain from the right frontal pelvis drift creating some aberrant loading on the greater trochanter from ITB tension ? Perhaps a painful right hallux big toe, and they are unloading it to avoid pain? Maybe some knee pain or low back pain ? Who knows? Take your history and start putting the pieces together, it is your job. Just don’t screen them and throw corrective exercises at them, you owe it to them to examine them, take their history, watch them walk, teach them about what you see, and then sit down, spread the puzzle pieces out, look for the straight edges and corner pieces, and begin to build their puzzle. 

Clues, they are everywhere, if you look for them.

Dr. Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

A test question from Dr. Allen, see how you do with this photo critical thinking.

When you walk on the beach you are on a slope. The leg closer to the water naturally drops down to a lower surface. 

Here is the game …  to keep the pelvis level on the horizon, one would have to:

a. shorten the water side leg

b. lengthen the water side leg

c. pronate the water side leg

d. supinate the water side leg

e. lengthen the beach side leg

f. shorten the beach side leg

g. pronate the beach side leg

h. supinate the beach side leg

i. externally rotate the water side leg

j. internally rotate the water side leg

k. externally rotate the beach side leg

l. internally rotate the beach side leg

m. flex the water side hip

n. extend the water side hip

o. flex the beach side hip

p. extend the beach side hip

******Ok, Stop scrolling right now !!!!!  

List all the letters that apply first.

You should have many letters.  *** And here is the kicker for bonus points, the letters can be unscrambled to spell the name of one of the most popular of the Beatles. Name that Beatle.

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.

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don’t look, figure it out before you scroll down further. It is important you try to work through the question and its foundational principles.

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.

.

.

.

.

Answer: B, D, F , G, I ,L , N, O

* now, more importantly, make sure you think of these issues in all your clients with leg length discrepancies, both anatomic and function and when the pelvis is not level. This is the most important take away from today’s test question. If you got the answers correct, you have the knowledge to implement. If you did not get the answer correct, you need to hammer down the HOW and WHY of the answer before you start playing with people’s bodies putting in heel lifts (boooo), sole lifts, orthotics, postings etc. If you do not have the foundation to play by the rules, you should not be playing.

ok, we were messing with ya on the Beatles thing. Sorry.

Dr. Shawn Allen

Is the “Short Foot” exercise dead ? Dr. Allen thinks it is at the very least, floundering on wobbly premises.

– another blog article by Dr. Shawn Allen

Stand and raise your toes. Where does your arch go ? It should elevate, the arch should increase in height/width/volume thanks to several biomechanical principles, the Windlass mechanism to name one.

Many therapeutic approaches to foot posture correction at some point implement the “Short foot” exercise. In some respects, perhaps many, I think that model may be poorly grounded fundamentally and functionally. My protocols and approach are to restore as functional a foot as possible, during both static and dynamic stance phases of gait, and that means restoring rear and forefoot alignment on a neutral strong competent arch. To be clear, an arch does not need to be high, at whatever its’ height, it just needs to be competent. It is quite possible that I have not truly used the “short foot” exercise in over 10 years in correcting my client’s biomechanics, not in its’ traditionally taught methodology (ie, I have never taught the exercise with the toes flush on the ground, that a mistake in my opinion). I see some limitations in it, and some flaws. These are purely experiential on my part, yet grounded in my successes and failures with many hundreds of clients. This however does not mean I am always right, but i go with what works in my clients. 

When I ask a client to stand up and raise their toes (this is truly how a “short foot” is achieved), pointing out that their arch raised as the toes elevated, they often look puzzled. I often put their orthotic under their foot and again ask them to raise the toes again, thus lifting their apparently “fallen” incompetent arch off the orthotic. I then ask the question, so, are we going to continue to use this device to “Fix” your foot ? Are we going to use a hydraulic push approach restore your foot, or are we going to exercise the muscle that are already there to lift (I like to use a crane analogy) the arch and restore the rear and forefoot relationships ?  Clients always answer this question for me, and they do so quickly.  I am quick to reply that this will take time, repetition, obsession, awareness and homework.  This does not mean every case is successful. Some people have attenuated the ligamentous and tendon structures so badly that a deconstructed arch or weight bearing navicular is just too far gone. There are also those folks who have zero body awareness and that is their rate limiting step.  There are many rate limiting steps in attempting to restore function. We just cannot save everyone. 

I am sure you want answers, protocols, “the order” and “the exercises” I use. Ivo and i have outlined some of them on our blog and on our youtube videos. Somewhat purposefully, we have not prescribed an “order” for them to be done, because each person has their own unique problems and their own order and that is were clinical knowledge must come in to play. You just cannot throw exercises at people and see what sticks, too many people do this already.  I also know that many prescribe the “Short Foot” exercise as homework. That is not a problem for some, but it may have limited value if the prescriber does not realize that 

the exercise has a retrograde approach and a prograde approach. 

What I mean is, with this exercise as it is traditionally taught by many (not all), that you are weight bearing first with the toes down, then shortening the rear-forefoot interval by reacting into the ground, and this is exactly opposite from what truly happens in functional prograde weight bearing. In functional weight bearing the arch and foot need to somewhat splay to load adapt, and more importantly, this has to be a skilled eccentric endurance task. This first portion of the arch splay occurs with the toes off of the ground and so forgetting to teach this part while only teaching the “reacting off the ground, flexor muscle driven approach” is flawed. The toes when on the ground utilize the flexor muscles help to resist the latter phase of arch accommodation, but again to be clear, this does not occur in the initial weight bearing phase where eccentrics of the anterior compartment muscles rule the roost. What I am trying to say is that there is never a point in the functional stance phase of the gait cycle where the rearfoot and forefoot are approximating, other than at terminal toe off, it just does not occur.  Hopefully you can see the point of my argument, that this exercise if done improperly (as taught by many) is not functional. 

So is the short foot exercise dead ? Well, to be honest everything has its’ place in this world. Value can sometimes be obtained from the most corrupt of tasks, but there has to be a correlation and transference to the end purpose.  

None the less, this is a pretty prehistoric exercise if you ask me, it needs to be dusted off and updated and retaught correctly, and that is one of my near term missions in the coming weeks. Again, if anything, if there is one morsel of value , the eccentric phase of “letting go” of the short foot posture into a controlled splay is the part of it that has much of any functional relevance.  Teaching your client how to attain a short foot posture, and then to stand and learn to slowly eccentrically release the short foot posture is its main functional value. But, the toes are critical, and a video is key to helping drive this point home, so that is my short term commission. Again, this does not mean there is not value here, so lets not start a social media rant taking my words out of context.  

To summarize, as we are bearing weight down on the foot the arch should be in a controlled pronatory deformation to shock absorb. There is no time to be reacting off the floor into a short foot, that opportunity moment is lost at contact, actually it really never occurs once the ground is met whether one is in initial rearfoot, midfoot or forefoot strike.  The foot has to be prepared at the time of contact with its’ most competent arch, not busy reacting after the fact trying to achieve the competent structure.  The value in the short foot is earning competence in its loading ability and learning to control its adaptive eccentric lengthening, this must be possible in both toe extension and toe flexion (ground contact).  Failure to procure a competent foot will put your client at risk for all of the juicy pathologies we talk about here on The Gait Guys, things like bunions, hammer toes, pes planus, plantar fascitis, tibialis posterior insufficiency and a multitude of various tendonopathies to name just a few.

Need an exciting primer on the types of things a foot should be able to do ? Here are 2 videos. Video link. Video 2 link.

Dr. Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

Yes, you are looking INSIDE this toe. That IS a screw and metal plate in that toe. 

What kind of stuff finds its way into your office ? I get all kinds of things it seems, at least once a day something comes in that makes me scratch my head. 

This client just wanted my opinion and thoughts on their toe and their gait once they are ambulating again. They have had multiple surgeries to this poor foot. You can see multiple scars over multiple digits and metatarsals.  This is the 3rd surgery to the big toe, the last 2 have been attempts at correcting failed prior surgeries. This is obviously the last straw surgery, total fusion of the metatarsophalangeal joint.  What is interesting in this case is that this plate was taken out about 4 weeks ago, and the skin was stretched back over and the wound closed up (forgot to take update photo for you). I saw it yesterday, and I was amazed at how healed up the area was. They are months post op now, and they can load the toe heavily now, that is always amazing to me. The body’s healing ability is a miracle. Of course, if you have been with us here long enough you will know that my “concern button” immediately got pushed but the client was proactive and asked the question before my oral diarrhea of concerns started.

So, they wanted to know about their gait and what to watch out for.  Off the top of your head, without thinking, you should be able to rattle off the following:

  • impaired toe off
  • premature heel rise
  • watchful eye on achilles issues
  • impaired hip extension and gluteal function
  • impaired terminal ankle plantar flexion (because they cannot access the synergists FHL and FHB)
  • impaired terminal ankle dorsi flexion (because they cannot access the synergists EHL and EHB)
  • lateral toe off which will promote ankle and foot inversion, which will challenge the peronei
  • frontal plane hip-pelvis drift because of the lateral toe off and lack of glute function
  • possible low back pain/tightness because of the  frontal plane pelvis drift and from altered hip extension motor patterning (and glute impairment)
  • possible knee pain from tracking challenges because they cannot complete medial tripod loading and thus sufficient pronation to internally spin the limb to get the knee to sagittal loading
  • impaired arm swing, more notable contralaterally

There is more, but that is enough for now. You need to know total body mechanics, movement patterns, normal gait cycle events (you have to know normal to know abnormal) and more. You have to know what normal is to understand when you are looking at abnormal.

* So, dial this back to something more simple, a “stubbed toe”, a painful sesamoid, painful pronation or a turf toe or hallux limitus.  They will all have the same list of complications that need to be evaluated, considered and addressed. This list should convey the importance that if your client has low back pain, examining the big toe motion is critical. Also, if you are just looking at the foot and toe in these cases, pack your bags … .  you don’t belong here. If you are just adjusting feet and toes and playing with orthotics while the list above does not constantly file back and forth through your brain, again, pack all your bags, grab your cat and leave town (just kidding, try reading more and get to some seminars).

If you know the complicated things, then the simple things become … … . . simple.

Your local treadmill gait analysis guru should know all of this if they are going to recommend shoes and exercises. Shame on them if there is no physical exam however. The data roadmap from the gait analysis software print out is not going to get you even out of the driveway let alone down the street. The data is going to tell you what you are doing to compensate, not tell you what is wrong. You must know anatomy, biomechanics, neurology, orthopedics and how to apply them to get the recipe right, not just which shoe in a store will unload the medial tripod of the foot or which exercise will lengthen your stride on the left. 

… .  sorry for the rant, too much coffee this morning, obviously.

Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

How relaxed, or shall we say “sloppy” is your gait ?

Look at this picture, the blurred left swing leg tells you this client has been photographed during gait motion. 

Now, visualize a line up from that right foot through the spine. You will see that it is clearly under the center/middle of the pelvis. But of course, it is easier to stand on one leg (as gait is merely transferring from one single leg stance to the other repeatedly) when your body mass is directly over the foot.  To do this the pelvis has to drift laterally over the stance leg side.  Sadly though, you should be able to have enough gluteal and abdominal cylinder strength to stack the foot and knee over the hip. This would mean that the pelvis plumb line should always fall between the feet, which is clearly not the case here.  This is sloppy weak lazy gait. It is likely an engrained habit in most people, but that does not make it right. It is pathology, in time something will likely have to give. 

This is the cross over gait we have beaten to a pulp here at The Gait Guys over and over … . . and over.   This gait this gait, this single photo, means this client is engaging movement into the frontal plane too much, they have drifted to the right. We call it frontal plane drift. To prevent it, it means you have to have an extra bit more of lateral line strength in the gluteus medius and lateral abdominal sling to fend off pathology. You have to be able to find functional stability in the stacked posture, and this can take some training and time.  Make no mistake, this is a faulty movement pattern, even if there is not pain, this is not efficient motor patterning and something will have to give. Whether that is lateral foot pain from more supination strategizing, more tone in the ITB perhaps causing lateral knee or hip pain, a compensation in arms swing or thoracic spine rotation or head tilt  … … something has to give, something has to compensate. 

So, how sloppy is your gait ? 

Do you kick or scuff the inside of your opposite shoe ? Can you hear your pants rub together ? Just clues. You must test the patterns, make no assumptions, please.

Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

Falling hard; Using supination to stop the drop.

“One thing, affects all things. One change necessitates global change. The more you know, the more you will see (and understand).  The more you know, see and understand, the more responsible you will and should feel to get it right and the more global your approach should become. If your head does not spin at times with all the issues that need to be juggled, you are likely not seeing all the issues you should be seeing.” -Dr. Allen (from an upcoming CME course)

This is a case that has been looked at before but today with new video. This is a client with a known anatomic short leg on the right (sock-less foot) from a diseased right hip joint.  

In this video, it is clear to see the subconscious brain attempting to lengthen the right leg by right foot strike laterally (in supination) in an attempt to keep the arch and talus as high as possible.  Supination should raise the arch and thus the resting height of the talus, which will functionally lengthen the leg.  This is great for the early stance phase of gait and help to normalize pelvis symmetry, however, it will certainly result in (as seen in this video) a sudden late stance phase pronation event as they move over to the medial foot for toe off. Pronation will occur abruptly and excessively, which can have its own set of biomechanical compensations all the way up the chain, from metatarsal stress responses and plantar fasciitis to hip rotational pathologies.  It will also result in a sudden plummet downwards back into the anatomic short leg as the functional lengthening strategy is aborted out of necessity to move forward.  

This is a case where use of a full length sole lift is imperative at all times. The closer you get to normalizing the functional length, the less you need to worry about controlling pronation with a controlling orthotic (controlling rate and extent of arch drop in many cases). Do not use a heel lift only in these cases, you can see this client is already rushing quickly into forefoot loading from the issues at hand, the last thing you should be doing is plantarflexing the foot-ankle and helping them get to the forefoot even faster !  This will cause toe hammering and gripping and set the client up for further risk to fat pat displacement, abnormal metatarsal loading, challenges to the lumbricals as well as imbalances in the harmony of the long and short flexors and extensors (ie. hammer toes). 

How much do you lift ?  Be patient, go little by little. Give time for adaptation. Gauge the amount on improved function, not trying to match the right and the left precisely, after all the two hips are not the same to begin with. So go with cleaner function over choosing matching equal leg lengths.  Give time for compensatory adaptation, it is going to take time.  

Finally, do not forget that these types of clients will always need therapy and retraining of normal ankle rocker and hip extension mechanics as well as lumbopelvic stability (because they will be most likely be dumping into anterior pelvic tilt and knee flexion during the sudden forefoot loading in the late midstance phase of gait). So ramp up those lower abdominals (especially on the right) !  

Oh, and do not forget that left arm swing will be all distorted since it pairs with this right limp challenge. Leave those therapeutic issues to the end, they will not change until they see more equal functional leg lengths. This is why we say never (ok, almost never) retrain arm swing until you know you have two closely symmetrical lower limbs. Otherwise you will be teaching them to compensate on an already faulty motor compensation. Remember, to get proper anti-phasic gait, or better put, to slow the tendency towards spinal protective phasic gait, you need the pelvic and shoulder “girdles” to cooperate. When you get it right, opposite arm and leg will swing together in same pendulum direction, and this will be matched and set up by an antiphasic gait.

One last thing, rushing to the right forefoot will force an early departure off that right limb during gait, which will have to be caught by the left quad to dampen the premature load on the left. They will also likely have a left frontal plane pelvis drift which will also have to be addressed at some point or concurrently. This could set up a cross over gait in some folks, so watch for that as well.

“One thing, affects all things. One change necessitates global change. The more you know, the more you will see (and understand).  The more you know, see and understand, the more responsible you will and should feel to get it right and the more global your approach should become. If your head does not spin at times with all the issues that need to be juggled, you are likely not seeing all the issues you should be seeing.” -Dr. Allen (from an upcoming CME course)

Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys.

Look at your patients and clients shoes!

Can you see the varus cant to the heel counter of these shoes? This is an Asics  Gel  Kayano; a shoe we seem to see manufacturers defects in frequently. This could be a good thing for an overpronator, but could be a bad thing for a supinator. With a drop ( ramp delta) of 13 mm, and a narrow toe box, we are not huge fans…