By Tom Fontana, MSPT
Being “pigeon toed” is not usually thought of as being a desirable thing, or an advantageous thing, but there are two (at least!) situations when we use this in PT to our advantage.
The first is when we have patients stretch out their hip flexors. The Psoas Major muscle (the main hip flexor) begins on the front of your lumbar spine (yup, the front of your back!). It crosses several lumbar joints, the sacroiliac joint and the hip joint before it ends on the inside of the leg bone near the groin. Stretching this muscle is often difficult because SO MANY joints have to be positioned just so in order for the stretch to be felt.
To do so, I like to have patients stand with one foot on the floor and one foot on the seat of a chair. Tighten your stomach muscles (think about bringing your belly button up to your ribs) and slowly shift your weight forward onto the foot on the chair (but make sure not to lean over). This makes the leg you are standing on stay behind you as you move your torso forward (while making sure your back knee stays straight and heel stays on the ground). To get that extra little bit of stretch, turn the leg you are standing on inward—pigeon toed—as that moves the end point slightly further back than it would be otherwise. That may make the difference between feeling a stretch vs. not (if you are relatively flexible) or feeling an even stronger stretch (if you aren’t).
The other instance is when we work on strengthening the muscles on the outside of your hip and rear end. Because the muscles here are often weak and the hip joint moves better when it is moving forward than out to the side, people often turn their foot outwards—“duck footed”—to avoid working out their gluteals entirely! Instead, force yourself to turn your foot inward—pigeon toed—and move the leg out sideways. Your leg won’t move as far and it may not feel as comfortable (butt muscles sometimes like to cramp!) but you will make sure you are really exercising where you need it!