I'm tired of walking like a baby.
April 25, 2007 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Can I train myself not to walk pigeon-toed?

I went to an orthopedist in high school for an unrelated thing, but during my appointment I asked him if there was anything I could do about my pigeon-toed gait. He said not to worry about it. However, as I get older my shoes get nicer, and it's frustrating that the way I walk causes me to scuff up the sides of my toes. Also, I occasionally trip over my feet, which is just unforgivably dorky.

I don't really want to have surgery or anything like that. What I'm wondering is if there are specific muscles I can exercise or stretches I can do to help me walk more normally. It's not comfortable for me to turn out my toes now (and never has been), so I tend to not do it unless I explicitly tell myself on every step to point out, and then it's painful at my knees. However, it seems like it has to be something you can learn to do, eg ballerinas can turn out their toes further than is comfortable for most people, I imagine. What kinds of stretches and exercise do they do to turn out their toes? Would it work for someone with pigeon toes? Have you managed to fix or at least ameliorate your weirdo gait?
posted by crinklebat to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to see if orthotics help you out- they were prescribed to me to help with some pretty bad pronation.

Worth a shot, not too much $$$.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:16 PM on April 25, 2007

Before she passed on pigeon-toedness to me, my mom had surgery when she was 14 to correct it. They carved out chunks of bone from her shins and put it in her feet. Apparently she had a little bit of change in exchange for being in a wheelchair for 6 months. She's still 20-30deg inward.

I used to be pigeon'ed enough for people to make fun of me for it during adolescence. It carried through fairly well with occasional bouts of my trying to intentionally walk with my feet straight in order to strenghten my muscles. Then I started riding a bike with toe-clips a lot, which has straightened me out more than anything and now I'm barely pigeon-toed at all (though it has started returning now that I haven't been riding much over the past few months).

And like you, I've never been able to splay my feet much.
posted by rhizome at 5:43 PM on April 25, 2007

I can tell you what doesn't work!

Becker Bars, which I wore from age 4 through 6. Horrible metal leg braces with unattractive orthotic shoes that I had to belt around my waist, thighs and calves. Finally my doctor told my mom that we should accept my inward turning feet because pigeon toed girls are "cute."

Then my mother decided I should constantly repeat to myself the mantra "toes out" all day long, and as I fell asleep. Needless to say, that didn't work either.

Later, someone told me that wearing Dr. Scholls (the classic wooden soled ones) on the wrong feet would fix the problem. That lasted about 5 minutes. Though wearing them properly did make a bit of difference.

As an adult, it's not so profound. Partially because most people grow out of being pigeon-toed (Coincidentally I was very recently trying to find out information about Becker Bars online) and because, like rhizome, exercise has made a difference. I try to be conscientous about turning out my feet when I'm doing something aerobic or lifting weights (especially when I'm working on my legs).
posted by suki at 6:12 PM on April 25, 2007

It's possible, but unless you're very young, it probably won't work. A subtle weirdness you find in Japan among young girls (high school aged through to mid-twenties or so) is that some of them are really, really pigeon-toed. I was puzzled about this until I asked about it. Apparently for some in Japan, a pigeon-toed girl is very cute and girly. Some girls simply walk that way on purpose, at least in public. I wonder if they do the same at home when no one's looking.
posted by zardoz at 6:45 PM on April 25, 2007

Many yoga teachers specifically work on making sure people's feet are pointing straight forward, and are drawing up evenly on both inner and outer arches.

One of the most basic exercises we do in the classes I attend is to stand with feet hip-width (4-6") apart, toe facing straight ahead, legs straight. Beginner: Just draw all 10 toes up, equally (to correct for the pigeon-toed gait, make sure you especially concentrate on drawing up your big toes). Slightly more advanced: With those toes lifted, isometrically draw your feet and shins together (you won't actually move); then, holding that, draw your thighbones apart. Melt your tailbone down into the space you created by pulling your thighbones apart (you'll feel your stomach draw in a bit).

That's how you stand up straight and even on your feet. I put myself through that when I'm brushing my teeth, or standing around on the train, or anywhere else I can remember. I have the opposite problem, collapsed outer arches and ballerina feet, but I'm starting to see a difference.
posted by occhiblu at 7:12 PM on April 25, 2007

Best answer: As far as ballet goes, turnout comes from the hips. If you have extremely tight hips, then stretching may help...and I suspect that you do, since you say it hurts your knees. (In ballet one turns out from the hips to avoid at all costs wrenching your knees, because it is bad, bad, bad.) Either cobbler pose or pigeon pose can help you rotate your hips. You can also work on it while you're lying down (watching TV, reading, whatever)--sit with your feet together (cobbler's pose) and use a blanket (wrapped around your ankles and under your knees) or just pillows to support your knees in a comfortable-but-stretching position, then lie back and distract yourself while gravity does the work.
posted by anaelith at 7:58 PM on April 25, 2007

I think it depends on where the condition originates - in your legs, feet or hips. I've always been pigeon-toed and my knees also knock; when I was a toddler my parents were told it would resolve itself, but it never did. They took me to get checked out when I was about 11 and we were told I had "inset hips" and would need an operation to correct it, that orthotics and exercises wouldn't work. So it might be worth getting checked out to see what part of your anatomy is causing the problem.

I never had the operation, and I really sympathise with you. I can't splay my feet out at all, but teachers and other kids always refused to believe that, and seemed to think I was just being purposefully obstinate (not to mention hiii-larious). I can make my feet straight if I concentrate, but it's not comfortable, and I can't do anything about the knock knees. I went to a podiatrist who was very helpful and gave me some tips about the problem of tripping over my own feet; he advised me to always wear shoes that strap or lace over the instep, because otherwise the foot is having a problem just keeping the shoe on, and that makes it easier to trip up.
posted by andraste at 8:32 PM on April 25, 2007

Yes. Done it. It takes consistent practice. You have to practice every time you walk, everywhere you go. Toes straight ahead. Six months, tops.
posted by ewkpates at 3:04 AM on April 26, 2007

It is hurting at your knees because you are twisting your feet at the ankles to get them to turn out more. This is not good for your knees at all. You need to learn to turn the leg out from the hip, and you need someone to show you how to do this in person. Try an instructor in pilates, alexander technique, kinesiology (not applied kinesiology, that's something different), or ballet.
posted by yohko at 10:13 AM on April 26, 2007

I would caution: While I love ballet (studied it for years, attend performances regularly), ballet is not generally very good for one's body. Dancers regularly hurt themselves, and often develop arthritis and other joint problems later in life. The way one must hold one's body for many dance forms is a function of aesthetics, not anatomy, and often twists one's limbs and torsos into really unnatural, ultimately unhealthy shapes and often puts a great deal of pressure and tension on parts of the body that were not designed for such.

I'm sure that dancers can offer you suggestions for helping with turnout, and it's completely possible those exercises will help you. But be a little wary about holding up ballet postures and exercises as a solid way of improving your natural alignment (they are, however, a great way of improving your balletic alignment!).
posted by occhiblu at 11:24 AM on April 26, 2007

If the OP is still around, I worked through a similar problem with PT and Pilates. I'm not sure what your original orthopedic problem was, but if it involved your back, hip, knee, or soles of your feet, it could be related.

I got a lot of rotation flexibility in my legs just from stretching out my IT band. You can use a roller to roll it out and do stretches like this one.

You can also try pressing into the soft part of your shins (between the 2 bones) and pointing and flexing your foot a few times, focusing on the parts that cause the most discomfort. This helps loosen the fascia between the bones and lets them work more independently of each other.

If you couple this with other stretches (like the ones marked best answer above), you'll definitely be able to see and feel a difference.

I've been working on this for nearly a year (though I also do Pilates regularly), and my pigeon-toedness is undetectable.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 4:46 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

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