What does it matter if I turn my feet in or out?

There are all sorts of instructions in yoga about what we 'should' be doing with our feet, how far apart they should be, how they should be oriented.

We are interested in optimum biomechanics so we teach outside edges of your feet (the line between baby toe and heel) parallel. People often ask why this is better.

I mean, most of us have been standing and walking with our feet turned out all our lives and we are fine, right?

Well, yes. More or less. Except for that nagging knee pain, those bunions, that ache in your hip, those shortened iliotibial bands, that lateral hip weakness...

The longer we practice bad habits, the more time we have to create asymmetry and wear in our bodies. But it's never too late to change habits. Nadine did it at almost 40. She's still got almost-bunions (she's lucky she changed her ways before they became actual bunions) but they are much reduced. As is her knee pain. And her back pain. Photos are of her feet.

Here are 4 reasons not to turn your feet out:

  1. Turning your feet out changes the rotation in your thighs, tightening your iliotibial band (ITB), hamstrings and gluts, whilst overly/continuously stretching the inner thigh muscles. This creates an imbalance with some muscles being too tight and others too long, and most of them being weak for various reasons.
  2. This situation can can put a lot of pressure on the medial side (inside) of the knees and can create knee pain
  3. When we turn our feet outwards, weight is not being borne evenly through our feet, but is concentrated on our big toe joint, and over time this calcifies and causes bunions. See knobs on Nadine's feet.
  4. Given our sedentary lifestyle, most people's hamstrings and gluts are already tight and weak, so feet turned outwards exacerbates the problem.

Here are 3 reasons to work towards parallel feet:

  1. When your feet are pointing forward, this puts less pressure on your knee joint and the line of force and weight bearing can travel better up to your femur and pelvis.
  2. It also puts the rotation of the thigh bones and muscles in a more neutral position, for better lateral hip strength and general use of your body.
  3. You inner thigh muscles form part of a line of muscle that runs all the way up your body from the arches of your feet. Whilst you do have intrinsic muscles in your feet to hold up your arches, if your inner thighs and lateral hip muscles are weak (from, say, habitually turning your feet out) you are more likely to have arch problems. And that can be really uncomfortable.