Why Do I Waddle When I Walk
“When was the last time you walked into a room full of people and immediately felt self-conscious about how unbalanced you were? The reason is that even though we don’t often notice it, our body has an innate sense of balance. Your brain uses this information to adjust your posture as needed so you walk naturally without falling over or bumping into things. But when your muscles become weak, your natural ability to maintain stability goes out the window.
Walking, like any other movement, requires coordination between many different parts of your body. In particular, your legs need to work together to keep you balanced while walking. For example, if one leg is longer than the other, your foot will land on uneven ground or try to compensate by rolling inward which causes a loss of balance.
If you have poor muscle strength, flexibility or range of motion, you may find yourself using compensatory movements to help move you along. These could include swinging your arms excessively or shuffling forward instead of taking long strides. While these are common motions, they can cause problems such as joint pain and fatigue. If you’re experiencing waddles, you should consult a healthcare professional who can determine what might be causing them and treat accordingly.
In more severe cases, a condition known as myopathic gait occurs where you waddle due to a lack of support from certain muscles. A weakened hip flexor (the large muscle at the front of your pelvis) combined with weakness in the gluteus (buttock) muscles gives you a tendency to swing your hips from side to side, leading to a characteristic waddle. You’ll see this most commonly in patients suffering from stroke, polio, muscular dystrophy or traumatic injuries to their lower back, but it can happen for a variety of reasons including spina bifuda, cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease.
To understand why someone would experience myopathic gait, let’s first take a look at the anatomy involved in maintaining good balance. The pelvic girdle consists of three bones; two sacral ones form the base of your spine and two coccygeal bones anchor your tailbone. Between those bones are some powerful muscles, primarily the erector spinae, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, internal and external obliques and transverse abdominis. They all play important roles in keeping everything upright and stable. The muscles surrounding the joint between your thighs and pelvis are also essential for proper functioning of the pelvic girdle.
Next, let’s explore how a waddling gait affects your overall mobility.
The Pelvic Girdle Muscles: Supporting the Glutes
Your glutes, hamstrings, core and hip abductors provide power and stability to propel you forward when walking. Without these muscles working properly, your stride becomes shorter and you lose your balance.
The gluteus maximus is located behind your buttocks and is responsible for helping extend your hip during walking. This muscle originates from your pubic bone and inserts into the greater trochanter of your femur. Its main function is to push you forward through the heel strike phase of walking. The gluteus medius is found on the outer part of your buttock and helps rotate your hip forward. It attaches to the sacrum via the greater sciatic notch. The gluteus minimus is somewhat smaller and lies deeper within your buttocks. Together, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and minimus comprise your gluteus muscles.
Another critical role for the gluteus muscles is to hold your pelvis steady. As you stand, the weight of your torso rests upon the small stabilizers of the pelvis — the iliopsoas, quadratus lumborum and cuneiformis. However, when walking, the gluteus muscles act as counterweights to stabilize the pelvis.
While these muscles do much of the heavy lifting, the rest of your core muscles also play an important role. The diaphragm, liver and kidneys all contribute to the process of breathing and thus supporting your body’s core functions. Also, the abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques) combine to create a “”six pack”” around your midsection. Their primary purpose is to pull your chest slightly downward, creating space beneath your ribcage. All of these muscles work together to ensure proper spinal alignment and skeletal stability.
Now let’s talk about the issue of imbalance and how it relates to a waddling gait.
Myopathic Waddling Gait and Mobility
Like many other activities, balance involves a complex interplay between multiple factors that must be coordinated correctly. If there’s a problem with one of these components, say your eyesight, you can still perform the activity safely. But you won’t get the best performance or enjoy optimal health. Similarly, although walking can be challenging for anyone, having issues with your musculoskeletal system can greatly increase your risk of injury.
One component of balance is proprioception, the sensory awareness of your position relative to both gravity and inertia (your own mass). Proprioception plays an especially vital role in controlling balance as you walk. During normal walking, your feet follow a fixed path with every step. But your body needs to know whether these steps are going too far to the right or left, allowing you to quickly change direction and avoid tripping. This means that your brain needs to receive constant feedback regarding your center of gravity and the forces acting upon it.
As we discussed earlier, your muscles provide stability and propulsion. But they also need to feel resistance in order for your brain to recognize its importance. If a muscle feels soft and pliable, it won’t be able to generate enough force to counteract instability and prevent falls. Weakness can occur in either type of muscle fiber, however. Type 1 fibers tend to atrophy more easily due to disuse, making them less resistant to stress. On the other hand, type 2 fibers are stronger, but not as resilient as they once were due to repeated use.
When your muscles aren’t strong enough to resist inertia, your center of gravity shifts backward toward your heels. Then, your foot tries to correct itself by rolling inward, which reduces stability and increases the likelihood of tripping. With weaker muscles, your body doesn’t detect this sudden shift in center of gravity very well.
So what exactly causes a person to waddle when he walks? Read on to learn more.
Muscle Power and Balance
Some muscles are better suited to providing stability than others. The larger your calves are, for instance, the better they will serve in this regard. Why does size matter? Muscle power depends largely upon the length of the muscle fibers themselves. Lengthening exercises, such as stretching, improve strength and endurance as well as increasing flexibility. So if you want to build stronger muscles, you need to stretch regularly.
You’ve probably heard that exercise builds muscle. But did you know that it also improves stability? Strength training is beneficial in improving balance. One study showed that elderly participants who exercised had improved postural control after six weeks compared to non-exercising controls [Source: McDonough]. In another study involving older adults, researchers observed that muscle strength alone wasn’t sufficient to protect against falls. Instead, it was only when functional muscle strength was coupled with balance ability that people experienced fewer falls.
But don’t worry! Even if you have trouble balancing on your own, you can practice techniques that strengthen your muscles and improve your stability. Try standing on one foot for 30 seconds, then switch sides. Or stand facing away from a wall, bend your knees and place your hands lightly on your hips. Now turn slowly and raise your arms overhead until they reach 90 degrees. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat five times. You can also try pushing your hands outward and upward to lift your pelvis off the floor. Afterward, lie down on your stomach and count backwards from 100 by 7s. Repeat this sequence 20 times.
For more information on waddling gaits and related topics, visit the next page.”
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