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View Full Version : Where do your feet point when you walk, and why?


Asimovian
02-23-2006, 11:37 AM
Despite the title's phrasing, this isn't meant to be a poll so much as the quest for an answer. In the last four years or so that I've spent commuting on public transportation, I've looked down a lot. What I've begun to notice is that some people, like me, tend to walk with both feet pointed straight forward as they walk. But there are also a lot of people whose feet point at angles away from their body as they walk. Some seem to be at as much as a 45 angle.

Also, I don't claim to have studied this extensively, but my unscientific observations seem to suggest that more women have outward-pointing feet than men.

Can anyone explain what causes this difference between us, assuming my question even makes sense?

Zeldar
02-23-2006, 12:35 PM
Just an additional observation: if you study your footprints in the sand at the beach, even when you try to point your feet straight ahead, most likley there will be some flaring off that straight-ahead line.

I think runway models overcompensate by stepping off-center of the line they're walking. By that I mean that the right foot would cross to the left of the line between both feet and the left foot to the right of it. That's how it looks to me, anyway.

The pigeon-toed gait is as amusing as the "slew-foot" to me.

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum both seemed to have gone out of their way to get unconventional walks. Wayne looked like he was walking sideways. (I've heard that he developed that walk deliberately.)

Anachronism
02-23-2006, 01:44 PM
Going from memory here, so I hope I have it correct. A book on body language I read recently said that someone with their feet pointing ahead is sure of themselves, confident and knows where they are going. Feet out to the side indicate someone with less confidence.

From my own personally observation, in general, the feet out at 45 deg angles crowd tend to be the geekiest.

Zsofia
02-23-2006, 02:03 PM
I'm just duck-footed. Runs in my family - several of my cousins are, too. I have a hard time with my form in the gym, as my knees aren't really over my feet to start with, and if I ever get asked to do a field sobriety test that involves walking a straight line, I'll be in serious trouble, drunk or not. It's not a body language thing or a style decision, it's just how my feet are.

tiltypig
02-23-2006, 02:09 PM
I have a pigeon-toed walk because that's the way my feet are attached to my ankles. If I sit in a tall chair and let my feet dangle, they'll naturally point inwards. I'm sort of annoyed that the body language book seems to think this is due to some kind of moral or psychological failing.

WhyNot
02-23-2006, 02:14 PM
It has to do with the tightness or slackness of various muscles, mostly all the way up in your butt. Someone with a lot of tension in the lateral rotators (the deep muscles on the sides of the butt) will have toes that point outward while they walk. These feet, like tiltypig's, often lay straight when the lateral rotators are not engaged, like while sitting or lying down.

In the "ideal" body (which almost no one has), the toes would point just sliiiightly outward, about 5 degrees from straight ahead. The center of the body weight should fall between the big toe (the "thumb" toe, as it were) and the next toe as the foot rolls from heel to toe.

I think the confidence thing is pop pseudo psychology, and while fun, is statistically insignificant. My experience as a massage therapist who watches a LOT of people's gait is that Tight Asses come in all personality types.

butler1850
02-23-2006, 02:29 PM
For me, my left foot points straight ahead. My right foot is set outwards about 30 degrees or so.

I'm not sure if that's the result of an injury I had years ago, or if that's how it's always been.

FTR, the left foot is flat, while the right foot has a moderate arch (not quite "normal", but not flat)

AHunter3
02-23-2006, 02:30 PM
In my case, minor birth defect. Left foot points straight ahead, right foot points off at an angle to the right. If I rotate my right leg to make the right foot point ahead, my right knee aims off to the left.

Bearflag70
02-23-2006, 02:35 PM
Is there any benefit to a perosn who attempts to correct their feet when walking by concentrating on pointing the feet forward?

AskNott
02-23-2006, 05:45 PM
I'm going to agree with, and add to, what WhyNot said. (We're not related, by the way.) I always walked splay-footed, with a 30-to-45 angle from straight ahead. When I went to a physical therapist after knee surgery, the PT explained that I walked that way because the VMO section of my quadriceps muscles were underused and underdeveloped. The quad is the big group on the front of the thigh, and the VMO (vastus medialus oblongata, I think) is the part of the quad closest to the other leg.

With a biofeedback device, he taught me to recognize the tightening of the VMO. When I think about it, and use the VMO, my feet are straight ahead when I walk. When I do that, the patella on my bad knee tracks straight, and it doesn't hurt.

Kimstu
02-23-2006, 05:52 PM
Is there any benefit to a perosn who attempts to correct their feet when walking by concentrating on pointing the feet forward?

As the Not brothers Ask and Why have mentioned (yeah, I know, sorry :)), the muscles that cause the "outward-pointing" tendency might not be in places that you intuitively associate with your feet.

So if you naively try to "correct" your foot position by, say, torquing your knees or ankles to compensate for the imbalance in your thigh or butt muscles, ISTM that you might end up doing more harm than good. Probably best to consult a professional about exercises you could do to improve your alignment.

Mangetout
02-23-2006, 06:33 PM
After much verbal abuse at school ('penguin' was one of the nicer terms), I trained myself, with great difficulty and discomfort, to walk with my feet parallel to one another pointing straight ahead. But it still feels wrong, even now, decades later.

I can only point my toes together so that they join at the toe at an angle of about 30 degrees; turning them outwards though, I can point my toes backward and my heels forward (although not all the way)

WhyNot
02-23-2006, 06:48 PM
Is there any benefit to a perosn who attempts to correct their feet when walking by concentrating on pointing the feet forward?
No, not really. As Kimstu points out, the problem is far away from your feet and not really under your control. Working with a PT, RolferTM or specially trained massage therapist to first loosen up those muscles and then learn how to walk without unconsciously over-engaging them would be a better bet. Just forcing your feet forward is going to screw up other muscles and ligaments, and not correct the ones creating the problem (as Mangetout discovered.)

panache45
02-24-2006, 10:46 AM
Could this possibly be weight-related? It seems that heavyset people tend to point their feet outward for stability. (I've also noticed that heavy people's arms swing differently when they walk: their palms tend to face toward the back, as opposed to facing toward the body.)

Asimovian
02-24-2006, 11:44 AM
Could this possibly be weight-related? It seems that heavyset people tend to point their feet outward for stability. (I've also noticed that heavy people's arms swing differently when they walk: their palms tend to face toward the back, as opposed to facing toward the body.)There was a point when I wondered the same thing, but I've watched a number of slimmer, and even petite, individuals with feet splayed outwards. Conversely, I am definitely a heavy-set guy, but my feet point just about straight ahead.

I suppose weight could be a factor for some folks, but it's certainly not the factor.

Prancer
02-24-2006, 12:00 PM
Lefty is normal. It points almost straight ahead - maybe 5 degrees to the left sometimes.

Righty points 30-35 degrees to the right. I broke it really badly a few years back and the angle changed pretty drammatically because of the break. The physical therapist said it's part of the body's way of coping with the loss of muscle that occurs when you can't walk on your foot for months. Once you start again, the body automatically wants to roll more from the inside to the ouside, instead of the normal healt to toe roll.

I was in PT for about 3 months. I fixed most of the tendon damage & rebuilt a good bit of my musculature during that time, but the out-turned angle improved only slightly -- from 40-45 degrees to the 30-35 I mentioned above. It's evidently a very difficult thing to get rid of and probably not worth it as it causes no serious harm to your gate overall. It's the only vestige of that break I retain. Considering how bad the break was, I feel that I'm really lucky.

cantara
02-24-2006, 12:01 PM
I noticed as a young teen that I walked with my toes pointed out at an angle.

I started going to a chiropractor when I was about 14 due to throwing my back out when I was helping my dad renovate his office. I went frequently for about a year and he would do a routine 'adjustment', but I would need to go back regularly.

Then I changed chiropractors. After his initial consultation, he said that he can't fix my back problems and that they would just re-occur until he straightens out my pelvis. :confused:! He called it a rotated pelvis and worked on me and soon got that straightened out and then got my back fixed too.

I now walk with my toes pointing forward.

Zsofia
02-24-2006, 12:05 PM
I'm not overweight. (I mean, I'd like to lose 5 pounds, but except for a little bit of belly fat I'm quite slender.) I'm so duck-footed there were positions I just couldn't really do when I had to take ballet in college.

dhunter1
02-24-2006, 12:07 PM
Interesting thread.

In my case, could one leg being longer than the other have an affect on these muscles or my walk?

I always just thought I was put together in a hurry, and one of my feet didnt get screwed on all the way.

Doobieous
02-24-2006, 01:31 PM
When I was younger, I used to walk with a foot angle of 45 degrees. I remember my doctor having me rollerskate, because he said it would correct the splay. It worked well, because now I have a slight angle (not quite straight ahead). I think that it had to do with developing the leg muscles so that they pulled my legs in the right direction.

WhyNot
02-24-2006, 06:48 PM
Interesting thread.

In my case, could one leg being longer than the other have an affect on these muscles or my walk?

I always just thought I was put together in a hurry, and one of my feet didnt get screwed on all the way.
Yes, sort of.

There's two different ways to have one leg "shorter than the other". The first is to actually have one leg shorter than the other - that is, if you took an x-ray and measured the tibia, fibula and femur, you'd have one measurement less than the other. This is actually rare, but not unheard of.

The more common condition is called a "functional" leg difference, and what this means is that while the bones are the same length, one leg is hiked up tighter into the pelvis by a bunch of tight muscles, so when you measure your leg with a tape measure, one is longer than the other.

Obviously, a functional leg difference caused by tight pelvic or gluteal muscles will often be seen along with a foot pointing out - also caused by tight pelvic or gluteal muscles.

So a functional leg shortness doesn't cause foot rotation, but the two are often caused by the same thing, and seen together. The treatment for both is massage and physical therapy, along with gait re-training and perhaps biofeedback to learn when you're clenching.

Mathochist
02-24-2006, 06:59 PM
Can anyone explain what causes this difference between us, assuming my question even makes sense?

I don't know in general, but as for myself...

My left foot naturally points outwards, partly due to being extremely flat-footed (which causes a roll inwards) and partly because at some point the tendon (maybe wrong term) that grabs the inside of the foot came halfway loose and never made a good grip again. Every roll would put pressure on that irritated end, and the tendon wasn't pulling my foot forward as strongly as usual, so I unconsciously rotated my foot outwards to keep the roll from putting as much pressure on the end. By the time it was really noticed as pathological and we had a podiatrist look at it I was dragging it beside me, pointing straight out to the left, and never noticing anything was wrong.

Incidentally, this tendon-letting-go thing is not that uncommon a phenomenon in people over 65 or so. Seeing it developed like that in a 12-year-old, however.. my doctor (as it happened then-president of some podiatrist's association or another) had never seen it happen and had no idea what could have caused it.

So now I've got inserts I use sporadically in sneakers, or I wear paratrooper boots (with a black suit, no less) for the ankle support, or I just make a conscious effort to walk on the outsides of my feet.

Northern Piper
02-24-2006, 07:21 PM
I'm in the same camp as butler1850 and AHunter3 - left foot and leg are normal, right foot points out at an angle of about 30. Right knee also points outward.

It's not related to an accident or anything - been that way as long as I can remember, and some of the other members of my mother's family had the same thing.

It's never been a problem for me, but it means I don't enjoy running for any length of time, because the weight comes down wrong on my right leg and foot - most of the impact is on the outside edge of my right foot, rather than evenly distributed.

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