Walking clue #3: One foot slaps the ground
May reveal: Ruptured disk in back, possible stroke
Sometimes experts don't have to see you walk -- they can hear you coming down the hall. A condition called "foot slap" or "drop foot" is when your foot literally slaps the ground as you walk. "It's caused by muscle weakness of the anterior tibial muscle or the peroneal muscles," says podiatrist Jane E. Andersen, who has a practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is a past president of the American Association for Women Podiatrists.
A healthy stride starts with a heel strike, then the foot slowly lowers to the ground, then it lifts from the toe and slings back to your heel. But with drop foot, muscle control is lost and the foot can't return slowly to the ground. Instead, it "slaps" the ground.
"This could be a sign of a stroke or other neuromuscular event, or of compression of a nerve," Andersen says. A ruptured disk in the back is a common cause, since it can compress a nerve that travels down the leg. A rare cause of drop foot is simply crossing your legs, Andersen says, if the common peroneal nerve is disrupted from the pressure.
More things your walk reveals about your health Walking clue #4: A confident stride (in a woman)
May reveal: Sexual satisfaction
Your stride and gait don't always indicate bad things. A study conducted in Belgium and Scotland, reported in the September, 2008, Journal of Sexual Medicine, found that a woman's walk can reveal her orgasmic ability. Women who have a fluid, energetic stride seem to be more likely to easily and often have vaginal orgasms, researchers said. They compared the gaits of women known to be orgasmic (defined as by penile intercourse, not direct clitoral stimulation) with those who were not.
What's the connection? The theory is that orgasms contribute to muscles that are neither flaccid nor locked. Result: a freer, easier stride, researchers found, as well as greater sexual confidence and better self-esteem.
Walking clue #5: A short stride
May reveal: Knee or hip degeneration
When the heel hits the ground at the beginning of a stride, the knee should be straight. If it's not, that can indicate a range-of-motion problem in which something is impairing the ability of the knee joint to move appropriately within the kneecap. "Degenerative changes in the knee sometimes need to be addressed by manual therapy to stretch out the tightness and improve that range of motion," Bailey says.
A similar cause of a short stride is lacking extension, or good range of motion, in the hip. By taking shorter steps, the walker doesn't have to extend as far. "Unfortunately, that compensation puts more stress on the back," Bailey says. "In older people, a big issue in the back is having enough space for the joints and nerves as it is. When you don't have a lot of hip extension, there's not a lot of room to play with, and it can cause back pain and neural issues, such as drop foot."