Almost 75% of Americans will will experience foot health problems of varying degrees of severity at one time or another in their lives. In children, “duck walk” and the opposite “pigeon toed” are both common, and as hip muscles develop and trunk bones align, these temporary abnormalities are usually corrected naturally. Some people, however, retain the “walks like a duck” posture, or develop it later in life.
Causes of “duck walking”
The medical term for “walks like a duck” is “out-toeing” and it can be caused by heredity (rarely), poor habits, or, more commonly, imbalances in the way the muscles hold, stabilize and rotate your hips. Specifically, the muscles involved in hip rotation are externally rotating your hip joints causing your legs turn turn out – and the feel follow.
From the time you were born, you learned how to walk–usually on flat floors, wearing different kinds of shoes, and watching other people’s patterns of movement. Over time, your walk changes due to injury, your overall physical fitness, muscle strength imbalance (or overdevelopment due to imbalanced workouts), or postural alignment. Out-turned feet can ultimately effect your gait, causing a “waddle”, like a duck. While this might look a bit funny, it’s not really dangerous. Ignoring the muscle imbalances that can cause out-toeing can, however, contribute to lower back pain, knee pain, ankle injuries and flatter feet.
Goodbye duck walk
For some, effective corrections can be as simple as going out for a walk with a new awareness and cultivating your ability to pay attention to old patterns while exploring with new possibilities. Here are a few quick tips…
Watch your resting foot position. Stand in one place and look straight ahead. Relax, then march in place 10 steps, then freeze. Take a look down at your feet. Are your feet pointed out? If so, that’s a good indication that when you walk, the same thing happens.
Focus on correct muscle movement For a couple of days, really concentrate on pointing your feet exactly in the direction of travel and focus on NOT duck walking. Think it about it even when you are SITTING. Keep ’em straight. You are likely to feel it in your hip and knees after only a couple of days if you’re doing it right. Continue this for as long as it takes to retrain the muscle memory. If it’s sore, visit a qualified massage therapist.
Seek out a massage therapist who can help. If your self-correction exercise produces hip or leg discomfort that’s hard to handle, visit a qualified massage therapist. They will work on the offending muscles, and the muscles that support those muscles. They’ll also show you some home care stretches and self-massage techniques to help you keep your goal of correcting your walking patterns.
See an orthopedist. If you are severely out-toed, or if your lower back or hip is really bothering you, try seeing a foot doctor (orthopedist). Sometimes orthotic devices (orthoses) can help slowly retrain leg and hip muscles.
Overall, focusing on correct muscle movement is like to have the greatest effect over time. Walk and watch, and focus on correcting the walk and the stance. Walking is by far the best exercise for your feet. It improves circulation, balance and flexibility. It can also help, with a little thoughtful persuasion, retrain your feet for a more toe forward position. Couple that with massage and you’ll get the benefit of better posture, plus reinvigorated muscles and reduced soreness.