gait graphs

Can the ground reaction move for you? (competition with small prize)

Thought I’d do something different and run a little competition with the chance of winning a copy of  my book. It’s based on one of the learning exercises we give to our students on our Masters in Clinical Gait Analysis by distance learning  If you’ve got students, trainees or junior colleagues maybe you’d like to forward the URL of this post to them so that they can have a go. Our students enjoy the exercise and I assume they will too. They also learn a lot about how we walk and how to measure the ground reaction.

This exercise requires students to experiment with walking in different ways to modify the characteristics of the ground reaction. You can download  a full description here. First of all they are simply asked to walk at different speeds and record the ground reaction. They then compare the data with those in Mike Schwartz’s paper on how gait patterns in general vary with walking speed. Generally there is good agreement but occasionally we’ll find someone who doesn’t vary speed in the same way that the average person does (whoever that is!).

Then I give them a number of different graphs of theoretical ground reactions and ask them to try and walk in such a way that they match the shape of the graph. The two below, for example, are to walk with exaggerated peaks of the vertical component and then with a flat pattern.


The students generally find these reasonably easy. The more alert ones spot that the flat pattern is simply what you get if you walk slowly but it can be reproduced in a normal speed walk if you think about what you are doing..

Then  come two more – one with the first peak higher than the second and finally the second peak higher than the first.


Again the first is easy. It is what happens if you walk faster (but like the flat peaks there are also ways of recreating it at normal speed). The second is much harder and so far (over two years now) none of the students has come up with a convincing example of walking with a higher second peak than first.

This interests me because a few years ago Barry Meadows and some of his colleagues published a paper based on their observation that in patients with a wide range pathologies you almost always find that the second peak of the ground reaction is diminished – never the opposite. They called this Ben Lomonding, after a mountain in Scotland that has two peaks – one of which is higher than the other.

Ben Lomond

So I just wonder – is it possible to walk in this way? I’m prepared to offer a copy of my book (signed of course!) for the person who can provide the best version of the fourth graph above (2nd ground reaction considerably higher than the first) as real ground reaction data.

Part of the aim of the learning exercise is for students to think about the relationship between the ground reaction and the movement of the centre of mass and we ask them to explain how they have changed their walking pattern in order to alter the  ground reaction.

I suspect it will be a lot easier if you adopt a highly asymmetrical pattern or adjust your gait for the particular step when you hit the force plate. I’ll be more much more impressed if you can illustrate the phenomenon with a symmetrical, repeatable gait pattern.

I’ll use these last two criteria (convincing explanation, and repeatability and symmetry of gait) to judge the winner in the event that more than one person comes up with a solution.

Maybe we need a few rules. Two weeks feels like about the right time. Send entries to me ( by midnight (UK time) on Monday 29th February. They should include:

  • a graph of the vertical component of the ground reaction (you might want to include the GRF from both legs if you want to impress me with your symmetry)
  • a video of you walking over the force plate (or you could send a link to one you’ve uploaded to YouTube of Vimeo or somewhere else publicly accessible – this is what I encourage our students to do). These are particularly useful if you can overlay the ground reaction vector but  I won’t insist on this as a lot of people still don’t have the technology (if all you’ve got is a smart phone then use that). Try and capture at least one step before and one step after the measurement if you want to impress me with the repeatability of your gait pattern).
  • a biomechanical explanation of how you have changed your walking pattern in order to change the ground reaction in this way.

To ensure that entries are genuine I will be try to replicate the best entries in my lab here on the basis of the explanations provided. If I can’t do this I may ask for proof that the data is real (e.g. data in a .c3d other file format that has obviously come directly from a force plate).

I’ll assume that in submitting these you’ll be happy for me to use the graphs and video  in a future post reporting the results. (Note that I won’t publish the explanations – I feel people should be free to write what they want without fear that it will get posted publicly).

Finally, if you enjoy the exercise and would like to engage more, why not think about enrolling on the Masters programme. You can do it as part time study in your current workplace and do not need to travel to Salford at all. You can find details at this link.



Choosing your moment

Hi, sorry its been so long since I posted but I’ve been reinvigorated by this year’s ESMAC conference here in Heidelberg. Earlier in the week I had the pivilege of sitting in on a session of the ESMAC gait course. Julie Stebbins had arranged a short quiz to start people thinking on Wednesday morning and the last question caught my attention. It’squite simple. There are four sets of kinematics along the top and four of kinetics along the bottom labelled A to D. What order do the kinetic datasets need to be arranged in to match the kinematic graphs (and why)? (You should be able to get a bigger view by double clicking on the picture.

choosing your moment

Rockers or rollers?

Writing about the movement of the hind-foot the a couple of weeks ago and about projection angles last week has led me to reflecting a little on Jacquelin Perry’s rockers. As with many of the concepts that we have in gait analysis, the rockers can give us some really useful insight into how we walk but can also prove misleading if we don’t remain conscious of their limitations.

I don’t recognise the word “rocker” as meaning anything in particular in this context and had assumed it was an American word meaning pivot or fulcrum. I happened to mention this to a couple of American colleagues a couple of years ago, however, and found that they didn’t recognise the word either. It would appear that Perry simply made it up. Not that it matters much, the word seems to get the concepts across readily enough.

The rockers provide mechanisms for the tibia to move forward over the foot and hence for the passenger unit to be carried forward in stance. If we look at the angle the tibia makes to the vertical (above) then we can see that it starts off about 20° behind vertical at foot contact and progresses forwards reasonably steadily (with a bit of a wobble) to reach about 50° in front of vertical at foot off.

tibial progression

Perry explains this in terms of three rockers.  Early on the whole foot rotates about the heel. Later on the tibia rotates over the foot about the ankle and then finally the whole foot rotates about the forefoot (see below). Easy eh!


There is no doubt that all three mechanisms make important contributions to tibial progression. I’m not quite so convinced by Perry’s implication that these occur as a sequence of discrete mechanisms. To investigate this we need to look at the dorsiflexion graph which tells us when ankle rocker occurs and the foot projections graph that tells us when the heel and forefoot rockers are active (see graphs below, note that is impossible to distinguish the timing of the rockers from the ankle angle graph alone ).

Rocker graphs


Heel rocker starts off at foot contact and proceeds until the foot is flat at about 8% of the gait cycle (in red above). It should be noted that this is considerably longer than the period to maximum plantarflexion in early stance that it is sometimes related to. Ankle rocker is the period over which the dorsiflexion angle increases which we can see from the ankle angle graph is from about 5% of the gait cycle to about 45%. There is thus a short period of overlap when both the heel and ankle rockers are active.

Forefoot rocker starts with heel lift which Perry suggests occurs at mid-stance (30% gait cycle). The data depicted above suggests it might commence even earlier (20%?) and it continues until the end of stance. It is thus clear that there is a considerable period from about 20% of the gait cycle until 45% when both ankle and forefoot rockers and simultaneously active.

The conclusion is that whilst the rockers are undoubtedly the mechanisms which allow the tibia to progress they form an overlapping progression rather than a series of discrete events. Indeed for the majority of stance two rockers are active simultaneously.

Since Perry introduced the concepts there has been some slippage in how the terms have been applied which is best avoided. As far as I can see, Perry always talked about heel, ankle and forefoot rockers and never first, second and third rockers. I think this is good practice as quite a lot of our patients don’t have a first rocker (they make contact with the forefoot rather than the heel). It’s always seemed a little illogical to me for someone to have a second rocker if they’ve never had a first rocker!

The other common misconception is that the rockers are alternative labels for phases of the gait cycle. Again Perry never used them in this sense, for her they are mechanisms that allow the tibia to move forward over the foot not phases of the gait cycle. It is particularly erroneous to apply these terms to phases of pathological gait. Many kids with CP never make heel contact and it is thus completely inappropriate to refer to early stance as the phase of heel rocker.

This reinforces the fact that the rockers are mechanisms of normal gait and great care is required in applying the terms to walking with pathology. If a child with CP makes contact with the toe after which the foot comes flat later in stance then they must use a mechanism that might best be described as a reverse forefoot rocker during which the heel is being lowered to the ground rather than being raised. Similarly if they employ a vault to assist clearance of the swing limb then they will often have a reversed ankle rocker during which plantarflexion (rather than dorsiflexion) increases.

Referring back to the work I described in my blog the week before last strongly suggests to me that, in bare feet, the heel rocker is actually a heel roller with the movement being a rolling on the curved surface of the posterior-distal calcaneus rather than a pivot about a particular point on the heel. On the other hand if walking in a shoe with a reasonably stiff heel it is more likely that a rocker like mechanism does occur. The appropriateness of this terminology may thus depend on footwear as well as gait pathology.

PS. In the second edition of Gait AnalysisPerry and Burnfield describe a fourth toe rocker very late in stance.  This can certainly be seen on slow motion videos but I’m not aware of any detailed studies of its biomechanical significance. It looks to occur very late on and I suspect only after most of the load has been taken off the foot but it would be nice to see a more definitive analysis of this.

Projection angles

I’ve had some feedback from Vicon support that people have been asking them how to calculate what I’ve called projection angles on page 138 of my book. These are graphs that look a bit like joint kinematics but represent how each of the segments is aligned with respect to the global axis system rather than to the proximal segment. Two of the femur projection angels thus show how the long axis of the femur is tilted with respect to the vertical in the global sagittal and coronal planes. The third angle shows how the femur is rotated about this axis (projected onto the transverse plane).

projection angles


I first plotted these graphs as a quality assurance tool in that they represent what you should see on  a video recording of the person walking (as long as you take into account parallax effects if the person is not in the centre of the screen or the camera is not directed exactly along one of the principal axes of the global coordinate system). Thus the femur transverse projection tells you whether you should be seeing the femur as internally or externally rotated as viewed by a camera towards which the person is walking. It avoids the need to perform a mental sum of pelvic rotation and hip rotation to assess which is required otherwise. In the example above, at foot contact the left thigh (red) is facing directly ahead and the right thigh is internally rotated by about 5°. You probably won’t be see such a small difference but if the right limb looked to be externally rotated at this instant you might want to question the alignment of thigh markers or knee alignment devices.

Since starting to plot the angles, however, a range of other uses have emerged. The tibia and femur sagittal projections, for example, are essentially what Elaine Owen refers to as segment to vertical angles when tuning ankle foot orthoses.

The foot transverse plane angle is what many of us already plot out routinely and call foot progression. The corresponding angle in the sagittal plane, however, is very rarely plotted but gives a direct appreciation of whether the foot is flat or not. In the example above the foot makes contact at an angle of about 15° to the ground and rotates to become flat on the floor (0°) during about the first 8% of the gait cycle (Perry’s heel rocker). It then remains flat until about 40% of the gait cycle (ankle rocker) after which heel rise causes the foot to start tilting forwards (negative angle, representing toe rocker). If distinguishing between the rockers is important to you then using a graph like this is about the only way to do it. I’ve referred in a previous post to how useful I find this information can be.

I’ve not plotted the pelvic graphs because, if you calculate them using the correct rotation sequence, then they are virtually identical to the pelvic joint angles.

The main reason for this post is thus to make the model that I wrote many years ago to calculate this widely available (click here to go to the download page). Unfortunately it is written in Vicon’s BodyLanguage so will only be directly useful for Vicon users (please note that it requires plugin Gait to have been run first). The accompanying description of exactly what the angles represent should, however, allow any reasonably competent clinical engineer to calculate the equivalents in any other programming/modelling language.

Normative databases: Part 1 – the numbers game

I get quite a few queries from people asking about how they should construct normative databases with which to compare their measurements. The first question to address is what you want the normative database for. As you’ll read in my book or in a paper that has just been accepted for Gait and Posture (based on the paper I presented at GMCAS last year)  I’m not convinced by the traditional arguments that we all have different ways of doing things and that we need to compensate for this by comparing clinical data to our own normative data. The whole history of measurement science, which really started at the time of the French revolution, has been about standardisation and the need to make measurements the same way. I don’t see any reason why gait analysts should be allowed to opt out of this.

I’d suggest that the main reason for collecting normative data should be to demonstrate that our measurement procedures are similar to those used in other labs rather than to make up for the idiosyncrasies that have developed for whatever reasons. Our paper shows that there are very small differences in normative data from two of the best respected children’s gait analysis services on different sides of the planet (Gillette Children’s Speciality Healthcare in Minneapolis and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne). The paper should be available electronically very soon (a couple of weeks) and will include the two normative datasets (mean and standard deviations) for others to download and compare with.

There are two important elements for comparison. Differences between the mean traces of two normative datasets will represent a combination of systematic differences between the participants and between the measuring techniques in different centres. If you find large differences here you should compare detailed description of your technique with that from the comparison centre and try and work towards more consistent techniques. Differences in the standard deviations represent differences in variability in the participants and in the measurement techniques. High standard deviations are likely to represent inconsistent measurement techniques within a given centre and require work within the centre to try and reduce this.

Having defined why we want to collect the data you can then think about how to design the dataset. The most obvious question is how many participants to include? The 95% confidence limits of the mean trace are very close to twice the standard error of the mean which is the standard deviation divided by the the square root of the sample size. I’ve plotted this on the figure below (the blue line). Thus if you want 95% confidence that your mean is within 2° of the value you have measured you’ll need just under 40 in the sample. If you want to decrease this to 1° you’ll need to increase the number to about 130. I’d suggest this isn’t a very good return for the extra hassle in including all those extra people.

sample size for normative data collection

Calculating confidence limits on the standard deviations is a little different (but not a great deal more complicated) because they are drawn from a chi-distribution rather than a normal distribution (see Stratford and Goldsmith, 1997). We’re not really interested in the lower confidence limit (how consistent our measurements might be in a best case scenario) but on the upper confidence limit (how inconsistent they might be in the worst case). We can plot a similar graph (based on the true value of the standard deviation being 6°). It is actually quite similar to the mean with just over 30 participants required to have 95% confidence that the actual SD is within 2 degrees of the measured SD and just under a hundred to reduce this to 1°.

In summary aiming to have between 30 and 40 people in the normative dataset appears to give reasonably tight confidence intervals on your data without requiring completely impractical numbers for data collection. You should note from both these curves that if you drop below about 20 participants then there is quite high potential that your results will not be representative of the population you have sampled from.

That’s probably enough for one post – I’ll maybe address some of the issues about the population you should sample from in the next post.

Just a note on the three day course we are running in June. Places are filling up and if you want to book one you should do so soon.


Stratford, P. W., & Goldsmith, C. H. (1997). Use of the standard error as a reliability index of interest: An applied example using elbow flexor strength data. Physical Therapy, 77, 745-750.