What is a Gait?

Daniel Liden

The term "gait" is used to describe the particular way in which animals move their limbs while moving over land by their own power. It is usually used more specifically to describe the manner in which a person walks. One's gait may vary drastically based on one's speed and energy level as well as the specific terrain on which one is traveling. The term may also be used to describe a single characteristic method of walking or running that an individual usually performs. Someone can be said, for example, to have a particular, recognizably shambling, clumsy, or confident gait.

Gait abnormalities may be discovered through biomechanical analysis and addressed with therapy and other methods.
Gait abnormalities may be discovered through biomechanical analysis and addressed with therapy and other methods.

Scientists, particularly in biological or life-science fields, have worked to scientifically classify and describe, and analyze gaits. Many different variables are considered while examining a specific animal's methods of movement. Symmetry, for example, is an important aspect of a gait. Animals whose left and right limbs alternate as they move, such as humans, are said to have symmetrical gaits while animals whose right and left legs move together, such as galloping horses, have asymmetrical gaits. An asymmetrical or leaping gait has a suspended phase when both limbs are in the air while symmetrical gaits do not have this phase because one limb is almost always in contact with the ground.

Walking barefoot is a great way to stabilize one's gait.
Walking barefoot is a great way to stabilize one's gait.

The formalized study of animal movement is called gait analysis. Beyond purely academic concerns, this field is applied to analyzing and effectively treating people who have difficulties in walking by determining the specific nature of their motor problems. Gait analysts may also analyze athletes in order to recommend improvements in their posture or to make recommendations related to injury prevention. There are many different methods and tools that scientists use to analyze an individual's movements. Videos and intermittent photographs of people walking or running over given terrain from a certain predefined perspective, for example, can provide a wealth of information to those who analyze gaits.

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Almost all horses have four natural gaits: walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
Almost all horses have four natural gaits: walk, trot, canter, and gallop.

A modern scientist who studies gaits may set up an entire lab devoted to gathering and analyzing information about the ways people move. Such a "gait lab" would likely include several treadmills and walkways on which subjects walk or run. It will also typically include cameras that record both normal and infra-red video from numerous perspectives. The treadmills and walkways are often mounted with sensors that can detect and record weight distribution. Sensor markers are generally placed on the subject as well; these are used to precisely record the motion of his limbs as he moves.

A gait may describe a single characteristic method of walking.
A gait may describe a single characteristic method of walking.
A broken bone in the foot will typically cause a gait disturbance.
A broken bone in the foot will typically cause a gait disturbance.

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