My Friends Say I Walk Like a Duck
How walking turned out can lead to pain and injury
We’ve all seen the dancer duck walk. Somewhere between ballet barre and petite allegro, our legs get permanently stuck in turnout. We decide that if we walk with our feet turned out we will be constantly working on bettering our technique. While we have good intentions, the problem is we are setting ourselves up for injury.
The way people walk, also known as their gait pattern, plays an important part in how their lower body functions. There are several phases to walking including striking the ground with the heel, swinging the other leg through and pushing off with the back toes. The arch of the foot tenses during walking to act as a shock absorber. This ideal way of walking naturally protects the feet, ankles, knees, hips and back. When dancers walk in a turned out position, everything changes. Instead of the mid heel striking the ground, the outside of the back of the foot does it. The arch then overpronates, or collapses onto the ground. The knees and hips are left twisting against the turned out position, and the pelvis tilts which turns off core muscles and puts strain on the low back. Sound fun? Not exactly.
Places you might experience pain from walking in turn out:
• Arch of the foot, known as Plantar Fasciitis
• Achilles or calves
• Knee joint
• Hip or IT Band pain
• Low back pain
What can you do to help?
1) Walk normally
While you feel like it is helping, duck walking is actually weakening your arch and putting you at risk of injury. It turns off the strong core muscles you worked so hard to develop. The muscles used for turn out get tired from staying that way all day and as a result, they tire out more quickly when you need them in dance class.
2) Stretch out your calves
Stretching your calves more will help your feet get used to using a natural heel strike while walking. Begin in a lunge stance with the front knee bent and back leg straight. Push hips forward to feel a stretch and move the back foot between parallel, turned out and slightly turned in to get the best stretch.
3) Work internal rotation of the hip
Dancers work so hard on turn out tend to forget about the other actions of the hip. Stretching and strengthening internal rotation will balance the muscles and help prevent injury. To do this, lay flat on your stomach. Loop an elastic band around your ankles and bend your knees to a 90 degree angle. Press against the band with both feet going outward for 3 sets of 10. This will help strengthen internal rotation. The same motion without the band stretches internal rotation.
4) Focus on your glutes
Your hip rotators are located in your gluteal muscles. Don’t forget to roll out or stretch your glutes after class to loosen up the muscles that work on turn out.
You can walk turned out in the studio all you want, but it is important to walk with feet parallel outside of dance. If you think you may have an injury from duck walking, you should see your doctor to make sure it is nothing serious and that it is safe for you to take class.
Full text: Spring 2016