How “Duck Foot” Walking Causes Upper Back Pain!

Walking is an everyday activity that we often take for granted. But, did you know that the way you walk can actually have long-term impacts? In particular, walking “duck foot” – which describes externally rotated femurs and feet – can have a significant effect on your upper back. 

This movement is a part of the ‘gait cycle’, or in other words, an individual’s pattern of walking. Over time, this improper positioning of the feet and femurs can lead to noticeable physical effects. The muscles throughout the whole body will be impacted since they won’t get the complete support they need to function effectively and efficiently. Understanding these factors can help you increase awareness in your own gait cycle while also improving your overall posture over time.

Duck Foot Walking vs. a Proper Gait Cycle

Walking with what is commonly referred to as ‘duck feet’ – when you walk with your feet pointing outward (aka externally rotated femurs and feet) – is an incorrect way of moving that places excess strain on the muscles located in your hips, lower back, upper back and possibly leading to increased kyphosis (hunching) of the spine. 

The proper gait cycle involves planting our heel down and rolling through the ball of the foot with (watch the video below for a demonstration!). When we bring our leg in front of us and roll through our feet and allow the leg behind us to extend, this uses your calves, your glutes, your hamstrings, your hip muscles. But when we walk in a duck footed position, we don’t get that muscle activation in the back of the leg, and we tend to compensate by using muscles in our spine.

Combating upper back kyphosis due to duck feet can be challenging but with a few simple habits, you can help restore your posture over time. The first step is creating an awareness around it where you start to think a little bit more about walking with our toes facing forward and rolling through the foot. However, it’s impossible to think about this 24/7, so its very important that you also do exercises to improve your neuromuscular patterns: 

3 Exercises to get out of the duck feet position

These three exercises will help get you out of the duck feet position and activate the muscles that you need to walk properly. Make sure to watch the video below where I demonstrate how to do each one.

  1. Wall Drop – This is a calf stretch exercise using a slant board if you have one. If you don’t have a slant board, you’re going to take a cutting board and place the edge of the cutting board against the wall and put a yoga block or a couple of books at the front of the cutting board to give it an angle. Stand on the slant board with your heels against the wall, making sure your feet are exactly parallel. Your arms are down by your sides and you’re going to relax and breathe in this position for three to five minutes. 
  2. Sitting Knee Pillow Squeezes – This exercise is done in a sitting position. Make sure that your knees are directly in front of your hips. You’re sitting up tall, you want to have a neutral position in your pelvis, which means you’re going to have a little bit of an arch in your lower back and your shoulders are directly above your hips. Place a yoga block between your knees. Make sure your feet are facing directly forward and parallel position. Simply squeeze into the pillow and release. Do this for three sets of 20 repetitions. 
  3. Sitting Rocking Chair – The final exercise in this series is going to be in a similar position you were just in the previous exercise with a yoga block between your knees, toes facing forward, and palms facing up in your lap. Lift your heels up and bend through the joint where your toes meet your foot (called the MTP joint). Now lower the heels down and lift the whole foot up (keeping the heel down). Go back and forth between these two positions making sure the feet do not roll out or in. This is called rocking chair. 

Time for action

At the end of the day, walking in a duck foot position can have a huge effect on your body, and it’s a great reminder that posture and body mechanics are completely intertwined. Now it’s time to give those three exercises a try and then let me know how it goes!


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