San Antonio Podiatrist, Dr. Ed Davis advises patients to consider an important marker of health that some term the “sixth vital sign.”
Vital signs are medical observations that service as basic indicators of health. There are four well known vital signs that are routinely checked: body temperature, pulse or heart rate, respiratory or breathing rate and blood pressure. Pain is often considered a fifth vital sign.
It has been suggested that walking speed be considered a sixth vital sign because it reveals so much about one’s health. Walking speed is a component of mobility and mobility directly affects the ability to be active and reflect issues that may be occurring in the body. It also is a good prognostic sign of future health.
Walking speed reflects a number of health issues from joint condition, balance issues, cardiovascular issues not to mention cognitive function. Reduced walking speed is a good predictor of future falls, hospitalization and functional decline associated with aging.
A number of papers have been written about the use of walking speed as a predictor of future health: Montero-Odasso M, Schapira M, Soriano ER, Varela M, Kaplan R, Camera LA, Mayorga LM. Gait velocity as a single predictor of adverse events in healthy seniors aged 75 years and older. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2005;60:1304-1309.
Humans walk at a range of speeds. Walking steadily at a specific speed requires only a modest amount of mechanical work if there are no physical impediments to walking. This is why there are stories of people walking great distances as the foot, ankle and lower extremity are designed to allow that to happen. The ankle and hip joints provide much of the functionality and power to move people forward, more so than the knee. Reduced ankle joint motion can make the knee and hips work harder.
Davis states that if walking speed is an indicator of future health then the act of maintaining a good walking program that includes walking at a brisk pace may be one of the best things one can do for health maintenance.
The human foot is a complex organ designed for balance, walking and running. Misalignment of the foot can affect walking as well as the knee, hips and back so maintaining good foot function is vital to a walking program. Some common alignment issues include overpronation or excessive rolling of the feet or oversupination which is excessive outward rolling of the feet. Leg length discrepancies, lateral ankle instability or reduced propulsion off the toe joints are all correctable issues that can affect alignment.
Assessment of foot function and alignment by a podiatrist trained in biomechanics can keep people walking in comfort and prevent future problems.