Causes and Solutions to Duck Feet

The three common causes of overpronated feet are overactive external rotators, weak internal rotators, and collapsed arches. A tight piriformis crossing over the hip can externally rotate the thigh and cause the knee and ankle to adopt compensatory patterns that lead to unstable feet. Weak adductors lead to a muscle imbalance where the adductors become overactive and cause overpronation. Arches of the feet play an essential role in shock absorption and propulsion during running and jumping movements because they act as a springboard for the motion.

Go ahead and stand up and look down at your feet. Suppose your feet look like the picture; then, you have a joint movement dysfunction called “duck feet.”  I recently fielded questions regarding the foot health of athletes because of my last article. Duck feet dysfunction has been brought up several times because most athletes and their parents didn’t know that this outward foot position was compensatory, leading to decreased athletic performance and a higher risk of injury. The three common causes of overpronated feet are overactive external rotators, weak internal rotators, and collapsed arches. The more the foot turns out, the flatter the foot will become. Let’s start this discussion by covering the hips first. 

EXTERNAL ROTATORS

Overactive external rotators are the primary causes of duck feet. The gluteus medius and minimus are the primary muscles for external rotation of the hip. The gluteus maximus plays a role in external rotation as well. These muscles become overactive because they end up acting as pelvic stabilizers because of our favorite pastime known as sitting on our butts. The hip flexors become tight and cause an anterior pelvic, which triggers the glute muscles to become more active to stabilize the pelvis. The other main culprit for duck feet is the piriformis.

The piriformis is a deep glute muscle that originates deep in the pelvis and attaches to the thigh’s medial aspect. Vivian Eisenstadt, a physical therapist, explained how the tightness of the piriformis affects other joints. 

“Think of your body as a pulley system,” she says. “Muscles cross joints and connect bone to bone, and pull the bones in one direction. If one muscle is too tight, then it creates a strain on the next joint over on both sides… A tight piriformis from slouching in a chair with your hips rotated outward puts a lot of strain on your low back and makes your hips so tight that you create an imbalance in the entire system.” – (Heitz, 2017)

A tight piriformis leads to an external rotation of the thigh that triggers compensatory movements at the knee and ankle joint. The results of these patterns being an overpronated foot. No need to fear, these compensatory mechanisms can be fixed through myofascial techniques and stretching. 

  1. Gluteus medius and minimus foam roll
  2. Stretches for tight glutes

INTERNAL ROTATORS

When one muscle group is overactive, the reciprocal muscle group is often weak and elongated. The anterior glute medius and adductor magnus being the lengthened and weakened muscles that can not counteract the pull of the glutes and piriformis. Hip adductor muscles of the inner thigh support balance and alignment by stabilizing muscles used to adduct and internally rotate the hip. It’s easy to tell if the adductor muscles are weak. Have the athlete lay on their side and move the upper hip and leg behind the lower leg. Next, have them lift the lower leg off the floor. If this movement can be completed without pain and with relative ease, add resistance bands or ankle weights and make sure the weight is comparable on the other side. 

The second way to test their adductor strength is to watch their knees on their squat. If the knees point overly outward, then there could be an imbalance of hip strength. Strengthen the hip adductors by performing these exercises. 

  1. Side leg Raise 
  2. Clamshells
  3. Standing Lateral Raises
  4. Wide Leg Squats
  5. Fire Hydrants
  6. Low lunge stretch

COLLAPSED ARCHES

Collapsed arches or “flat feet” can be the root cause of bad movement patterns or the result; keep that in mind as the article continues. There are three arches in the human foot, and they play a critical role in weight-bearing movements. The arches distribute the body’s weight throughout the bones in the foot by the arches. The three arches in the reference are the medial longitudinal arch on the big toe side, the lateral longitudinal arch on the little toe side, and the transverse arch across the metatarsal heads. Like the movement patterns we’ve been discussing for weeks if any of these arches collapse, they all collapse (Muscolino, 2018). The lateral longitudinal arch plays the most critical role in transmitting weight as it makes more contact with the ground than the medial arch. 

Just as there are multiple arches, there are various collapses of those arches. Rigid dropped arches cause the feet to always pronate whether the foot is supporting weight or not. Supple fallen arches are more common, as the arch is perfectly healthy when it’s not carrying the body’s weight, but collapses when supporting weight, which causes the pronation of the feet. Weak arch muscles are the cause of supple overpronation.

Medial Longitudinal Arch

Muscles:

  • flexor digitorum longus
  • abductor hallucis
  • flexor digitorum brevis
  • tibialis posterior- The tibialis posterior is the most important muscle as damage to it will result in a complete collapse of the arch. The tibialis posterior and other anterior muscles raise the medial border of the arch while the flexor hallucis longus acts as a bowstring.

Lateral Longitudinal Arch   

Muscles: 

  • fibularis longus 
  • abductor digiti minimi
  • lateral half of flexor digitorum brevis
  • fibularis brevis 
  • fibularis tertius

Transverse Arch

Muscles: 

  • Fibularis longus
  • tibialis posterior

The good news is that athletes can fix collapsed arches through a series of exercises, stretches, and supports.

  1. Heel stretches
  2. Foot rolls
  3. Arch lifts
  4. Calf raises
  5. Towel curls
  6. Toe raises

There is a wide range of orthotic devices out there that can provide support to the foot while function and strength are developed. I recommend that athletes go and see a professional for custom made orthopedics. 

The three common causes of overpronated feet are overactive external rotators, weak internal rotators, and collapsed arches. A tight piriformis crossing over the hip can externally rotate the thigh and cause the knee and ankle to adopt compensatory patterns that lead to unstable feet. Weak adductors lead to a muscle imbalance where the adductors become overactive and cause overpronation. Arches of the feet play an essential role in shock absorption and propulsion during running and jumping movements because they act as a springboard for the motion. The body is the most complex machine globally, ensuring that all athletes and clients understand why it’s essential to keep all systems functioning properly. 

Bibliography

Chertoff, J. (2018, January 10). Tight Glutes: Exercises, Symptoms, Causes, and More. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/tight-glutes

Heitz, D. (2017, March 23). 5 Things to Know About the Piriformis Stretch. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/things-to-know-about-the-piriformis-stretch

Lacke, S. (2020, February 07). Are Weak Hip Adductors Causing Your Injuries? Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://www.triathlete.com/training/injury-prevention/are-weak-hip-adductors-causing-your-injuries/

Muscolino, J. (2018, May 15). What is overpronation and what are its causes? Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://learnmuscles.com/blog/2016/12/03/what-is-overpronation-and-what-are-its-causes/

O’Leary, C. (2020, August 17). Arches of the foot. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/arches-of-the-foot

Wong, E. (Writer). (2019, January 28). Pronated Feet and How to Fix 3 Different Causes of OVERPRONATION [Video file]. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=671&v=ZcIx7ykJY6U&feature=emb_logo

Wong, M. (2018, June 13). How to fix Duck feet posture. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://posturedirect.com/how-to-fix-duck-feet-posture/

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