Crooked legs — "outtoeing"?

Dear Alice,

I could not find anything related to this in your archives. I'm not sure if this is relevant to my problem or not, but I am a skinny, 19 year old male, and I have no history of sprained ankles, broken legs, or foot injuries.

My feet naturally point about 45 degrees out from my knees. I have always walked awkwardly. I have also had a lot of trouble with shoes wearing out unusually quickly and hurting my feet when they are new.

I tried pointing my feet forward, but that hurt my knees by forcing them to point inwards. I can straighten both my knees and my feet, but it feels very awkward and puts a lot of strain on my legs. I have also received a lot of comments on angle of my feet.

Is there a way to correct this problem without expensive surgery? Will I permanently injure my legs if I continue trying to force my feet into a straighter position? If pointing my feet forwards is not an option, can you recommend a comfortable way to walk with my feet as they are that will not look strange or put too much strain on my legs?

— Worried and Awkward

Dear Worried and Awkward,

A person takes thousands of steps a day, so it makes sense that you'd want to put your best foot (position) forward in order to look and feel most comfortable. From your descriptions, it sounds as if you may have a case of "outtoeing," where the feet naturally turn out from the legs, similar to a ballerina's stance.

Outtoeing can occur when the femur (upper leg bone) or tibia (lower leg bone) turns outward, causing the feet to appear spread out at a wide angle from each other. There are several causes of this condition, including fetal position in the womb before birth, an inherited tendency to walk this way, or sitting and/or standing in a particular position for extended periods of time. Outtoeing is most apparent during childhood and usually corrects itself without any special treatment. Your case may be one that was unnoticed or not corrected when you were younger, leading to its presence at your age.

Since there are several factors that may be responsible for your outtoeing, consulting with a health care provider or an orthopedist would definitely be a step in the right direction. S/he can run tests on the alignment of your legs, knees, and lower body, as well as collect other information about your posture and gait. This information can then be used to determine if your outtoeing is within the normal range and correct it if it's not. S/he can also discuss ways to reduce the foot and back pains caused by your walking and explore the possibility of an osteotomy (a surgical procedure that involves cutting the bones of the tibia or femur to allow them to realign).

The prospect of such a surgery may give you cold feet about speaking with a health care professional, but there may be other treatment options available to you. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you'll be comfortable in your own shoes!

Last updated Mar 09, 2015
Originally published Feb 01, 2008

Submit a new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.