When you walk, your heel swings from side to side as your foot moves. When the heel swings correctly, your foot can flatten and regain its arch as you walk. But if your heel swings too much, your foot may flatten more than it should. Over time, such excess movement may cause foot problems.
The three phases of a step are:
1. Heel Strike - When the heel hits the ground, its outer edge touches first. Soft tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments) relax. Your foot is able to flatten, adapt to uneven surfaces, and absorb the shock of touchdown.
2. Mid-Stance - During mid-stance, your heel is below the ankle bone, and the front and back of your foot are aligned. Your foot easily bears your weight.
3. Heel Lift - As the heel lifts, it swings slightly to the inside. Muscles, tendons and ligaments tighten. Your foot regains its arch, allowing your toes to push your weight off the ground.
On the other hand, the Gait Cycle is defined as the motions of a leg from the heel strike of one foot to the heel strike of that foot again. The gait cycle has two phases: the stance phase and the swing phase.
Human gait is a very complicated, coordinated series of movements. Walking is divided into two main phases. The stance phase is the weight bearing portion of each gait cycle. It is initiated by heel strike and ends with toe off of the same foot. Swing phase is initiated with toe off and ends with heel strike. The two periods when both feet are on the ground, are called initial double support and terminal double support. Initial double support occurs from heel strike of support limb to toe-off of the opposite limb. Terminal double support occurs from opposite limb heel strike to support limb toe-off. Single limb support is identical to the period of swing of the opposite limb.
The stance phase is the most important part of the gait cycle in relation to sports injuries. The stance phase is divided into three parts:
- The contact phase is from the heel strike until the foot is flat- footed. Normal contact is with the foot in a slightly supinated position and the heel contact taking place on the lateral side of the heel centre. In this plane, the foot rapidly pronates which allows for shock absorption and for the foot to adapt to the terrain. Forefoot loading terminates contact phase.
- The mid-stance phase (at about 50% of the stance) begins with forefoot loading from the flat-footed position until the heel lift of the support limb. In this phase the foot supinates to become a stable platform for support of the body's weight. This phase can be described as a conversion to a rigid lever, with the midtarsal being locked in a neutral position.
- The propulsive/take-off phase (the final 50% of the stance phase) is from heel-lift to toe-off. In this phase the foot continues to supinate and the tarsals are locked for the foot to become a rigid lever with maximum forefoot loading to take place at about 75-80% of the stance phase. Toe off is at a 2° supinated position. The leg moves into swing phase.
The swing phase consists of 40% of normal gait cycle and occurs from toe-off to heel strike. During this phase the foot remains supinated. Supination shortens the foot, which helps it to clear the ground. Supination also minimizes the energy expenditure necessary for ground clearance as the non weight-bearing limb passes the weight-bearing limb. Supination stabilizes the bony architecture of the foot thus preparing it for heel strike, when the foot must absorb the shock of striking the ground.
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