When I was in acute rehab, in-home rehab, and then later in outpatient rehab, my therapists were constantly correcting me on my walking technique. Correcting became scolding since I’m not a very good listener. They wrote the phrase “Willful” in my medical chart. It wasn’t meant as a compliment.
I was so eager to prove to myself that I could still walk, that I was focused on getting to the destination whether my affected side wanted to cooperate or not. My gait resembled one of those 3-legged races at summer picnics. You know, where two people stand side-by-side and tie one leg to the leg of a partner. They hoist the bundled legs in the middle, throwing them forward in a clumsy hopping motion.
In my case, my right leg, ankle, and foot were significantly affected. Spasticity set in, leaving the limb stiff and partially bent. I tried to get around this by using the 3-legged-race technique. I could actually move pretty fast this way, as long as I held tightly onto my 4-point cane. My gait was both ugly and painful, but it got me where I wanted to go.
Slow Down and Do It Right
If you are a determined sort, you can move from Point A to Point B whether you are handicapped or not. I mean, you can crawl on your belly to reach your destination, but that will do nothing towards recovery. Proper walking technique really does matter. I can’t emphasize this enough. If that means sacrificing speed, then so be it. If you must move at a snail’s pace to maintain proper walking technique, then walk at a snail’s pace.
The alternative to proper technique results in bad habits forming, as well as injury to your nonaffected side and joints. Like me, you could end up with an injured hip, knee or ankle on your good side, and then where would you be? Bad walking technique also fails to provide the exercise that the muscles on your affected side need. You’re not going to establish new neural pathways in your brain to move your affected muscles if you do not try to use them. All of them.
Think back to the instruction you received when you were still in therapy. Do you remember when they told you to walk slowly and lift your knee? Do you remember their instructions to strike the ground heel first? How about pushing off the ground with your back foot before you swing it forward? Can you still hear the words of your therapist in your head? I sure do. At least I do now – I had to injure myself first, before acknowledging that with their expertise, experience, and postgraduate education, that they probably knew more about the topic than me.
So, when you are practicing walking, slow down and focus on your technique. In the words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”