Author Alexandra Horowitz Takes a Walk With Dr. Evan Johnson in her New Book

Ms. Horowitz Story

OnLookingBookDr. Evan Johnson, Director of Physical Therapy at The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York, is one of eleven unique individuals to share the sidewalk with author Alexandra Horowitz in her new book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.

Ms. Horowitz had spinal surgery for a nerve root injury with Dr. Paul McCormick of The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York and then underwent extensive rehabilitation with Dr. Johnson.

In her book, she reviews her own recovery and the challenges of learning how to walk normally again. She explains how her therapy began with Dr. Johnson’s gait test, a careful observation of the way she walked at the time.

I was coming to accept that the prognosis for recovery from a nerve root injury is decidedly uncertain. But after seeing me walk off-and-back, Johnson popped up from his stool. “You’ll be running again,” he told me.”With time,” he added.  He was right. I went through intensive rehabilitative therapy. It was so successful that, one day six months later as Johnson and I went out to take a walk from his office, neither of us even commented on the fact that I was walking with no apparent limp. Walking again represented the most desirable of conditions: ordinariness. 

During their walk through Washington Heights, Ms. Horowitz observes the many people walking around them and shares with Dr. Johnson, “…there were two kinds of gaits: unremarkable and lame.”

She then retells how, during their ninety-minute walk, he manages to disabuse her of this notion and opens up a world of gait deviations and stride patterns that make the ordinary supremely exceptional.

Johnson found lots of so-called gait “faults,” but he was also admiring of the people we saw: more than anything, one becomes aware of how many different but successful ways there are to propel oneself around one’s day. Nor is every odd gait a pathology.

Dr. Johnson also observed individuals with a variety of well balanced and efficient gait patterns during their walk. Ms. Horowitz retells Dr. Johnson’s observations of two men in particular:

The first walked loosely and evenly, his knees bending to comfortably absorb each step, his pelvis rotating and his arms swinging smoothly. The gray suit [the other man] was perfectly aligned in his steps: his ears over his shoulders, his shoulder over his hips. Each, Johnson said, was a version of the ideal walker: their gaits had few asymmetries, were smooth and loose, and wasted no energy doing anything but going forward. 

Restoration of this kind of balance and efficiency of movement is at the core of physical therapy. It is a point that therapists Dr. Johnson and Dr. Rami Said at The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York  emphasize and strive for with every patient. Their ability to deconstruct a person’s gait and movement during every-day activities is key to setting the goals in therapy, monitoring progress, and restoring function. This focus and attention to detail is what makes the physical therapists here so good at what they do.

In her book On LookingMs. Horowitz does an eloquent job of capturing Dr. Johnson’s astute eye and the keen observations of a seasoned physical therapist. On Looking was released on January 8, 2013 and is available at bookstores and

Learn more about Dr. Evan Johnson, Dr. Rami Said, and the Spine Hospital here.

Posted on Jan 10, 2013 by Department Author

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