Gait: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Gait Definition and Meaning

Gait refers to the pattern or style of movement involved in walking. It is the coordinated movement, involving your feet, legs, and arms, that comes into play when you walk. In short, it’s how you walk. A person's gait is influenced by a variety of factors, including muscle strength and coordination.

Types of Gait

There are different patterns of movement that people may exhibit when walking. Some of us walk with our toes turned in, others walk with their toes slightly turned out. Some people have a tendency to pronate (where body weight tends to fall more on the inside of the foot so your feet may roll inward as you walk) or supinate (where weight falls more on the outside of the foot so your feet may roll outward as you walk). 

These differences may explain why everyone walks a little differently. If you’re injured, your gait can change due to a limp (technically called “antalgic gait”), which may develop as a way to avoid pain on weight-bearing structures, such as a sprained ankle. Gait can also be affected by chronic conditions, especially neurological conditions that affect how your body moves, such as stroke, Parkinson's, or multiple sclerosis.

Gait Issues

Changes in gait can occur after an injury, like a strain or sprain, or other medical condition, like arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, or balance issues. Limping, short steps, or other gait changes can all be the result of compensation to avoid discomfort. If you’re dealing with heel bursitis, for instance, you may walk more on your toes in an effort to avoid some of the pain at the back of your foot. If knee pain is causing you trouble, you may develop a temporary limp by relying more on the unaffected leg. 

Factors Affecting Gait

Age, speed, muscle strength, and footwear can all affect one's gait. Gait can also be affected by injuries, chronic conditions, and balance issues. 

Gait: A Hinge Health Perspective

There is no one right way to walk. We’re all built a little differently, which is perfectly normal. While your foot should roll forward from heel to toe in a proper stride, small differences in walking patterns usually aren’t cause for concern. However, there are times when how we walk can contribute to our pain experiences. This can be due to a variety of factors, including current or past injuries as well as decreased balance, strength, or flexibility. 

This is why it’s so important to keep moving as you heal from an injury or are managing pain from a chronic condition, like arthritis. Although moving when you have pain can be scary and uncomfortable, small changes to your habits can yield huge benefits. A well-rounded exercise routine that includes weight-bearing exercises, cardio, flexibility exercises, and balance training will not only help keep your bones strong, but also increase muscle strength and improve posture, balance, and coordination

Gait and Balance

Balance tends to decline with age, usually so subtly most people aren’t even aware of it. As you get older, your vestibular system — the complex structure of fluid-filled tubes and chambers that make up your inner ear — ages along with the rest of you. This makes it harder for the nerves of your vestibular system to send signals to your brain, which impacts your balance. Changes in balance can affect your gait, like stepping wider, taking short steps, or pitching more forward. That said, most gait changes among older adults are due to other conditions — healthy older adults shouldn’t assume their gait will worsen with age. Still, balance training exercises have been shown to be effective in helping to improve balance and gait, while decreasing fall risks

Exercises to Improve Gait

Improving your gait and stride often involves targeted exercises that focus on strength, balance, and coordination. Exercises such as heel-to-toe walks, leg lifts, and squats can be beneficial. Physical therapy may also help improve your gait after an injury — your rehab may include treadmill training and specific routines designed to correct gait changes and help you walk with confidence. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Salzman, B. (2010). Gait and Balance Disorders in Older Adults. American Family Physician, 82(1), 61–68. 

  2. Alizadehsaravi, L., Bruijn, S. M., Muijres, W., Koster, R. A. J., & van Dieën, J. H. (2022). Improvement in gait stability in older adults after ten sessions of standing balance training. PLOS ONE, 17(7), e0242115. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0242115

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