Feel Stronger, Stand Taller and Reduce Injury Risk
I've got the ONE thing you can start doing today that will make a ginormous impact on how your body works, and more importantly how you FEEL in your body.
When you look down at your feet while walking, which way does your second toe point? Is it straight ahead or slightly out?
Most people tend to walk with a slight amount of turn out, or external rotation, coming from the hip, and often this is accompanied by some level of pain or discomfort in the body. Often, I see this movement pattern in individuals with low back or hip pain, plantar fasciitis (arch/heel pain), tight calves, and even arthritis of the big toe.
Can't really relate to those issues, but still walk this way? Start preventing these types of problems NOW before you start feeling the effects of the mechanical breakdown.
Walking with this gait pattern can be a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg situation as the foot and hip are closely related from a biomechanical standpoint. Does the foot (or feet) turn out because of the mechanical efficiency needed to overcome mobility restrictions from the foot, ankle, or lower leg and then the hip gets tight from repetitive movement? Or does it come from tightness in the hip that pulls the rest of the leg into external rotation along with it? Or a combo of the two?
While it's always good to get to the root of the problem to determine the driving force behind the dysfunction, I like to start with mobility work at both ends of this particular kinetic chain. Naturally, when I'm in the clinic working with patients, this takes the form of a variety of things like joint mobilizations, soft tissue work, neuromotor retraining, eccentric loading, etc.
But you know what my favorite home exercise is for these folks?
I have them start being aware of their gait pattern and start walking with their feet truly facing forward to start to neutralize that turnout.
The low load, reciprocal and highly repetitive nature of walking is the perfect way to work on the mobility at these joints while retraining your brain to change muscle activation patterns in the most functional way imaginable. AND- there's no barrier of finding new time to the other exercises that are also a part of their home program, so compliance tends to be high.
Many of my patients have told me, "But Erin, I AM.. Look at my big toe- it's pointing straight ahead!"
Here's the secret: The center line of your foot needs to be pointing straight ahead. If you draw a line from the center of your ankle through the space between your second and third toe (or just your second toe to simplify things), that line is what needs to be pointing forward. AND, the line drawn on your left foot should be parallel with the midline of your right foot. Yes, you will likely feel a bit pigeon-toed, and that’s probably right!
When they make the switch, it's been a common theme for them to come back and be blown away, telling me that they felt this simple change was one of the biggest factors in them getting control over their symptoms and getting rid of their pain! They often even say it's helped with their posture. So simple!
Keep in mind that if you are really tight somewhere along this chain, it may not feel good to go directly to straight from where you are. You may need to slowly adjust by reducing the external rotation slightly as it feels good. Also, this change of motion may highlight some discomfort that you weren't aware of that needs worked.
If you've been walking this way for a long time, your body has gotten used to this by adapting muscle length, activation patterns, and stamina, so don't be surprised if it feels awkward or uncomfortable. Just don't continue if it produces pain- that's a sign something is going on that may be better suited to getting professional help.
Disclaimer: Remember, I've never met you, and I'm talking about how people walk in a general sense with the commonly seen strength/flexibility imbalances. So, if you've got something going on that the typical person doesn't, this may not be a smart move for you. However, if you do have pain that is any way limiting your daily function, get checked out by a well-trained physical therapist to analyze your specific situation and help you get rid of/better manage your condition.
While I don't want you to expect immediate relief of pain, know that this teeny tiny tweak to your movement patterns may set you up for major, positive changes as you make this your new habit.