Some call it out toeing, or an out toe gait, but many people simply call them duck feet. This position, when the feet pointing out, is a very common concern. Sometimes, the condition is structural. It’s due to the way your bones twisted as you grew. In many cases, it’s a sign of your feet compensating for other issues. In these cases, there are certain things that can be done to straighten them out. And even better? There’s no surgery involved.  So, today, we’ll discuss the causes of duck feet, and what you can do to get them pointing the right way. 

What are duck feet and how do you know if you have them? 

The term duck feet refers to a postural deviation where one’s feet are pointed outwards. In contrast, pigeon toe is when the feet point inwards. Not sure if you have duck feet? Take off your shoes and march in place for five seconds, and then stop. If your toes are pointing outwards, then you have an out toe gait, or duck feet. 

What causes an out toe gait? 

There’s nothing you did wrong to walk this way. One cause could be if your hip is in an external position. And that could happen for a few different reasons. First, it may not have fully twisted during development. This will lead to your knees being in an externally rotated position and will affect you all the way down to your feet. 

The other reason is tight hip plexors, and this could be because of the position that you sat in when you were growing up. For instance, sitting with your feet behind you, with your feet pointing out, can cause your hip flexors to tighten. But hip flexors also respond to the position you’re in when you’re walking. If you have flat feet, you’ll compensate with the hip flexors tightening. So walking like a duck can be because of tight hip flexors, but also can cause hip flexors to become tight. 

If you suspect that tightness in your hip flexors is the cause of your duck feet, you can find some relief with stretching. Also, yoga is great for this cause of out toeing. Just be mindful of the position in which you put your feet, so you can get the full impact of the poses. 

Now, your hips aren’t always to blame for duck feet. You see, your knees can also be in an external position. This is usually due to external tibial torsion, a condition that occurs when the tibia hasn’t fully twisted as you’ve grown. If that’s the case, the torsion will cause the feet to be in an external position as well. Unfortunately, there are no good stretches for this. But there are ways to compensate for it. And it usually involves custom orthotics

Determining the Causes of Duck FeetFlat feet above a custom orthotic to correct duck feet

Here’s how you can tell if your hips or knees are responsible for your out toeing. Sit at the edge of a high chair or a counter with your knees bent and legs dangling down. If your feet are straight, then you’re in luck Neither your hips nor your knees are out of whack. But if your kneecaps are pointing outwards, and so are your feet, then the issue comes from your hips or your femur. If your kneecaps are straight ahead, but your feet aren’t, then it’s coming from your tibia. 

Of course, sometimes, it’s neither your hips nor your tibia’s fault. So what else could be contributing to your duck feet? One reason could be a lack of ankle motion, specifically the foot moving toward the leg. This motion is called dorsiflexion and the syndrome is known as equinus. This is a very common condition. When you have limited ankle dorsiflection, it can force the foot to externally rotate to compensate for the lack of mobility. It’s tough to test for equinus by yourself, it’s really a two person job, and it also gets pretty technical, so you’re better off scheduling an appointment in our Houston podiatry practice if you’re concerned about ankle mobility. 

Now, if you do have equinus, you can stretch your Achilles tendon with a common wall stretch that’s very effective. You know how to do it. Put your hands against the wall, shoulder width apart, and place the leg to be stretched behind you. Point your toes straight ahead, bend your arms, and lean into the wall.   You’ll feel the stretch in the back of your legs and hold it for a slow 10 count. But there’s a second part to this stretch. When you bend your back knee slightly while keeping your heel on the ground, you’ll feel the stretch shift to your Achilles tendon, closer to your heel. Hold this position for another slow 10 count. This can help loosen up the structures around your ankle, and may improve your out toe gait. 

Walking Like a Duck: The Most Common Cause

Ready for one more factor that could lead to out toeing? The most common cause that makes you walk like a duck is when your feet overpronate. All of the reasons we’ve mentioned earlier can cause overpronation as compensation for those issues. Or, you may simply overpronate and feel like you’ve been doomed with flat feet. 

You see, when you overpronate, your feet still have to get you to where you’re going. But because your feet don’t take a dynamic step forward, they’re forced to cheat. They rotate outwards and you roll off the side of your great toe joint. This is a very inefficient way to walk or run. And the solution to overpronation due to flat feet is using a custom foot orthotic. 

Now, orthotics are different than over the counter insoles. (You can explore why here.) But, to summarize, an orthotic is a specialized shoe insert made from a mold of your foot. The goal of an orthotic is to provide the exact compensation that your feet need. This will stop your feet from having to compensate themselves, thus straightening them out. 

When we put a child in custom orthotics, you can see the difference in minutes. Adults take a little longer, since they’ve been compensating for a much longer time. Either way, you will see results. The custom orthotics will help you stand and walk longer, run faster, and jump higher. And it can all happen without surgery. 
If you realize that you’re walking like a duck, this post should have helped you understand why. Ready to say goodbye to duck feet and walk with greater comfort and ease? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Andrew Schneider today!