Duck feet describes a lower body postural misalignment in which your feet turn outward at 45-degree angles when you’re standing or walking.
Various postural imbalances caused by the development of tightness and weakness in opposing muscle groups can lead to this condition.
Duck feet is more serious than it may seem, because it’s a mechanical misalignment at the root of lower back, hip, foot and knee pain, and it makes you more prone to injury.
If you suspect you have duck feet, in this post, we’ll go over how to tell for sure.
We’ll also look at the causes that underlie the development of duck feet, and exercises you can do to fix it and restore postural balance.
Why Is It Important To Fix Duck Feet?
There are several reasons you’d want to correct duck feet.
The problems arise when you walk long-term with your feet turned outward.
It causes you to walk in an inefficient and potentially harmful way, by rolling from the outside edge of your heels to the inside of your foot.
This deviates from the normal way of walking from heel to toe, in which your feet and legs bear the impact of your body in an even and balanced way.
Walking from your outer heel to the inside of your foot causes muscle imbalances that only perpetuate the imbalance.
Being positioned at an incorrect angle taxes your knees and ankles and can lead to repetitive injury, weak joints and potentially even knee surgery.
When you have duck feet, you’re also prone to low back pain, hip pain and foot pain because these parts are all functioning with a mechanical misalignment.
What Causes Duck Feet?
No alignment issue exists in isolation since the inner mechanics of your body are all connected.
You may think that the cause of duck feet is the feet themselves, however, duck feet is often the result of misalignment in either your hips or your knees.
These arise over time as habits, injuries, tightness and repetitive movement patterns cause muscle imbalances that affect your posture.
Mobility issues in your feet caused by injuries or tightness can also force your body to compensate with duck feet. Honing in on the cause of your duck feet is an important part of correcting it.
In the next section, we’ll help you identify what is causing your duck feet.
How Do You Know You Have Duck Feet?
You can find out more about your duck feet simply by looking a bit closer.
Let’s look at how to fix duck feet caused by different sources and some tests that help narrow down the cause of your duck feet.
1. Duck Feet Caused by Externally Rotated Hips
Duck feet can be caused due to externally rotated hips. In other words, the whole leg (femur and shins) is pointing outwards due to the position of the rotated hips which gives the appearance of duck feet.
Externally rotated hips are usually the result of tight glutes (most notably the piriformis) and weak hip internal rotators.
To fix duck feet caused by too much hip external rotation you would need to lengthen the glutes (by stretching and releasing them) and strengthen the hip internal rotators so that the rotation of the hips is pulled more ‘internally’ rather than ‘externally’.
You can test if your duck feet are rooted in your hips or not by lying flat on the floor on your back. Relax completely, and look down at your knees. If your kneecaps are facing outwards along with your feet, then your hip alignment is the culprit.
We will provide stretches and exercises below to fix this in a later section.
2. Duck Feet Caused by a Posteriorly Tilted Pelvis
A posterior tilt of the pelvis (front of the pelvis tilting up and the back down) can result in the hip opening outwards.
When you have a posterior pelvic tilt, you’re disposed to duck feet because of the way it tightens and over-activates your glutes and hamstrings (and core).
To correct duck feet in this case, you’ll need to loosen up the muscles in your buttocks and the backs of your thighs and strengthen your lower back and hip flexors to get your hips in a more neutral position.
These are also the steps taken to fix a posterior pelvic tilt.
This post will not include specific exercises to fix duck feet caused by a posterior pelvic tilt. If you want to explore this cause in greater detail, see our page on how to fix a posterior pelvic tilt.
3. Duck Feet Caused by Tibial External Rotation
Duck feet can also occur even if your hips are properly aligned.
So how can duck feet still occur?
If your hips are rotated forward properly (not in external rotation) and you find that you still have duck feet, you may find that the source of the outward turn is coming from just below the knee which causes the tibia (shin bones) to point outwards. Consequently, your feet will also point out.
The usual cause in this case is tight hamstrings, and it can cause knee pain when you engage in rigorous physical activity.
So how do you test for external tibial rotation?
When you lay flat on your back and look down toward your feet and see that your kneecaps face straight upwards while your toes point outwards, you have an external tibial rotation. Your tibia is your shin bone, and it turns out as a result of misaligned knee joints.
Thankfully, it can also be corrected through strengthening, stretching and releasing muscles involved in the misalignment, which we will include in a later section.
4. Duck Feet Caused by Lack of Ankle Mobility
Ankle alignment issues are a less common cause of duck feet.
Foot and ankle injuries can cause your feet to compensate for pain and limited mobility by turning out, which then becomes the norm through repetitive muscle functions.
When you have limited dorsiflexion, which means you can’t move your toes upward toward your shins to walk with your toes facing forward, you compensate by going from your outer foot to inner foot.
Likewise, limited plantar flexion, which is the opposite of dorsiflexion, can deter you from walking with your feet facing forward. If a sprain has not healed properly, a person may limit their movement to avoid pain.
Doing this consistently will tighten the joint capsule and cause scar tissue, which limits dorsiflexion and plantar flexion. You can get a sense for whether your ankles are affecting your foot alignment by gaging your ability to point and flex your feet.
Stretching and releasing your calves should help in this situation. We will cover how to do this effectively later on.
You can test if you have ankle mobility issues using the test in the video shown above.
5. Flat Feet/Pronated Foot
“Flat feet,” in which your arches are collapsed and virtually nonexistent, you’re prone to walking outer foot to inner foot instead of heel to toe because of the imbalance caused.
Fallen, flat arches cause your ankles to collapse inward. To compensate for the inward collapse, your feet turn out to keep your legs balanced and upright.
Flat feet, also called foot pronation, can be difficult to fix, but strengthening the muscles in the arches of your feet and wearing shoes with ample arch support can help prevent duck feet.
If you feel your duck feet are caused by a fallen arch, see our page on how to fix flat feet.
Other Causes of Duck Feet
If the cause of your duck feet is still unclear after doing these tests, it’s a good idea to consult with a health professional who can look at it for you.
Following the instructions in this post to correct muscle imbalances won’t be enough in some cases.
If you have a more serious structural issue affecting your alignment, such as a bone deformity or past injury, it’s important to get help correcting it.
Exercises and Stretches to Correct Duck Feet
Now let’s get into what you can do at home to fix duck feet.
This section is broken down into sections depending on the cause of your duck feet so it is important that you know what is causing your duck feet.
If you are still unsure go back and read the previous section or see a health professional who can advise you.
It takes consistency to see results, but if you’re in pain, these exercises may give you some instant relief as well.
The exercises that help correct duck feet do not force your body into a new position, but instead work to resolve the muscular issues that underlie your misalignment.
Some muscles need to be strengthened to help hold you into alignment, whereas others need to be loosened to unlock incorrect bone placements.
You can target the muscles that need to be strengthened with strength training exercises that isolate those muscles, and you can loosen tight muscles with stretches and self-massage techniques. In this section, we will show you how.
1. Correcting Duck Feet Caused by External Hip Rotation
If your hips are the cause of your duck feet, you need to strengthen the muscles in your buttocks responsible for rotating your legs inward, and loosen the ones that cause them to turn out.
i) Release your External Hip Rotator Muscles
The part of your glutes responsible for turning out your hips gets excessively tight, contracted and shortened when your hips are always rotated outwards while walking.
Get down on the floor or on a mat, and place the massage tool under your buttocks on one side. Use the tool to roll on the glute muscles and find the spot that feels the most painful.
It’s likely to be the lower glute area, which activates and contracts when you rotate your leg outward. Spend 1 to 2 minutes digging into the area as much as you can withstand the pain.
This will allow you to release the fascia around the muscles, which helps muscles retain their normal shape.
The goal is to lengthen and loosen the glutes, and the compression of the massage tool disrupts the tension and tightness that’s holding the muscle in its contracted form.
Make sure you do both sides. The trigger points that are the most painful are the ones that need your attention the most. Massaging and myofascial release is something you can quickly do once a day to start restoring the muscles around your hips to their normal functions.
ii) Stretch your External Rotator Muscles
Different glute stretches release different parts of the glutes. To target your external rotator muscles:
- Sit in a chair and cross your left leg over the right so that your left ankle is laying across your right thigh
- To intensify this stretch you can also grab hold of the left knee with both hands and pull your left knee up toward your right shoulder until you feel the stretch.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then slowly release your leg and repeat with the other side
iii) Strengthen your Internal Hip Rotator Muscles
Your internal hip rotator muscles are located inside each hip, and you can feel them fire up and activate when you put your hand on your hip and rotate one leg inwards.
This is the muscle you want to strengthen, because if you have duck feet, these muscles have become stretched out in a lengthened position where they’re not holding your legs in alignment.
You can strengthen your hip internal rotators using the exercise shown above.
- Lay on a mat on one side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, stacked on top each other
- Place a foam roller, ball, pillow or folded towel between your legs so that your thighs are parallel to each other
- Keeping your knees in place, internally rotate the hip that’s on top so that your lower leg and foot raise upward
- Feel the contraction in your hip as you rotate inward and lift your foot, then lower back down and repeat.
- Stand in a forward lunge with your front knee bent at a 90-degree angle and your back knee straight
- Twist your rear leg internally, so that your knee comes inward and your outer ankle moves toward the floor
- Release to the starting position to complete a rep
- Keeping your front leg still and holding a wall or chair for stability, continue with more reps
This section should help you if you find that your hips are stuck in external rotation. To further your results you may also want to see our page on how to improve your hip internal rotation.
2. Correcting Duck Feet Caused by External Tibia Rotation
Your hamstrings are the large muscle group on the backs of your thighs, and they’re comprised of several individual muscles.
Sit in a chair and place your hand under your thigh, close to the knee joint.
Gently rotate your tibia inwards and outwards and feel the lateral hamstring (on the outer side of your thigh, close to the knee joint) contract when you rotate your tibia outwards.
If your tibia is stuck in external rotation, your lateral hamstring is bound to be tight.
i) Lateral Hamstring Release and Stretch
Sitting on a chair or on the floor, place a massage ball, tennis ball, lacrosse ball or softball under your lateral hamstring.
Shift it around with the ball against the floor until you feel the tight, painful area. Hold your lower leg in your hand and slowly straighten and bend your knee just slightly enough to roll the ball a little.
Keep making these small movements with the ball to loosen up the fascia and muscle tissue.
The video above how to stretch and release the lateral hamstrings.
ii) Strengthen your Medial Hamstrings
As opposed to the lateral hamstring, your medial hamstring (properly known as the Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus muscle) is on the more inner, or medial, side of the back of your thigh.
It begins under your glute and stretches down through your knee joint, attaching at the top of your shin bone on the inner side. The medial hamstring contracts when you turn your lower leg inward from the knee joint.
If your shins are always rotated outward, this muscle has likely become lengthened and weak, especially relative to the lateral hamstring opposing it.
Sitting on a chair again and placing your hand under your knee joint, you’ll feel the medial hamstring contract when you turn your tibia inwards, along with the tendons that run along this muscle
Leg curls and deadlifts are exercises that effectively strengthen your medial hamstring and help with leg muscle alignment. You can do seated or lying leg curls at a hamstring curl machine at the gym.
To perform a deadlift with dumbbells:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
- With a bend in your knees, bend over and pick up the barbell bar/dumbbells with a shoulder-width grip, your palms facing you
- Bend your knees further until your shins touch the bar
- Flatten your back and lift your chest so that you’re bending only at the knees and hips and not in your back
- Leaving your arms and back straight straighten your knees and hips to come to an upright standing position
- Bend at the knees and hips again until your shins touch the bar
- Continue doing reps, feeling it in the backs of your thighs.
While you’re doing leg curls and deadlifts, it helps to have a trainer or even a friend spot you and ensure your tibia is facing forward.
If your feet are turned out while doing these, it will activate the lateral hamstring instead. Aim to feel it in the inner hamstring, squeezing it as you rotate your shins forward.
3. Correcting Duck Feet Caused by Limited Dorsiflexion
If you’re unable to lift the balls of your feet while in a standing position, you may have limited dorsiflexion. The most common causes are ankle injuries and calf tightness.
Stretching your calves can usually improve dorsiflexion and help prevent duck feet.
You can work on stretching out the calf with the “knee to wall stretch.” Stand in a wide-stance forward lunge, with both feet flat on the floor and one knee bent and touching a wall.
You should feel a stretch in the calf of the straight leg behind you. Doing this stretch daily can help correct the imbalance in your ankles and lower legs so that you can walk with your feet in a forward motion. For more stretches, see our page on how to relieve tight calves.
The calf muscle opposes the tibialis anterior, the muscle on the front of your lower leg. When the calf muscle is tightened, the tibialis anterior is lengthened.
To further combat the effect of tight calves in causing your duck feet, a good plan would be to also strengthen the tibialis anterior.
This would shorten the muscle which would help with dorsal flexion. The video below shows an exercise to help strengthen the tibialis anterior.
Important Points to Consider When Fixing Your Duck Feet
Resolving duck feet isn’t a quick-fix, even if you go see a chiropractor for an adjustment.
It involves fixing muscle imbalances that affect your postural alignment (which we have already discussed), and making lasting changes to your muscles requires time and repetition.
Do not try to correct your duck feet by turning your feet inward. Forcing the correction while you walk makes you more prone to injury and developing other alignment problems.
All you need to do is carve some time out of each day to address your duck feet with specific exercises, and walk naturally without thinking about it the rest of the time.
Use a foam roller to loosen muscles before and after exercise, and use a percussion massage gun or take an Epsom salt bath for excessively tight and stubborn muscles in your legs, glutes and hips.
Stretching on a regular basis is also important.
Once you’ve seen results and fixed your duck feet, do the exercises and stretches once in a while, but not as regularly, to prevent duck feet from developing again.
Once your legs and feet are facing forward, you want to work on strengthening and loosening your muscles in a holistic, balanced way, instead of just focusing on the muscles that caused your duck feet.
Make Fixing Your Duck Feet a Priority
Duck feet may not seem like a huge problem, and many people who have it don’t realize it’s significant.
When it comes to alignment, however, your feet serve as a foundation. Standing, walking and exercising with duck feet causes problems throughout your body from the feet upwards, and makes you more prone to developing other alignment issues, as well as injuries.
The good news is, that duck feet can be resolved by putting some time and attention to the muscles holding your misalignment in place.
If you only have one leg that’s turned out, perform these exercises on the affected leg only. Once the affected leg is aligned, balance out by doing leg exercises on both legs to target every muscle group.
Of course, the exercises and stretches we talked about won’t be enough to fix duck feet if there’s a deep-rooted structural issue causing your legs, tibia or feet to turn out. Be sure to see a professional if you suspect muscle imbalance isn’t the root cause.