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Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

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  #1  
Old 20th December 2010, 08:16 AM
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Default Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

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Just came across this blog entry:
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Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

I was recently asked to contribute to the "Ask Anything" column in Maxim magazine. In this front-of-the-magazine section, Maxim solicits random questions from readers, then consult "real experts for actual, scientific answers." I was asked to answer the question why so many gifted athletes are pigeon-toed? Here's my answer (and a special thanks to CFKA for the ball analogies):

While there’s no real research clearly defining the relationship with being pigeon-toed and being a good athlete, there is quite a bit of anecdotal and indirect research evidence to support the notion. In fact, many coaches in sports like football, basketball, soccer and track actually look for pigeon-toed athletes to join their teams. This is because there seems to be a disproportionate number of fast athletes who are pigeon-toed.

When you run, you land on the outside of your foot and roll toward the inside. People who are pigeon-toed tend to have less of this roll. Consequently, when they contact the ground their foot and ankle joint tends to be stiffer with less ‘give.’ It is this lack of medial or inward foot roll that causes people who are pigeon-toed to also appear flat-footed. It’s also what may give them their advantage. The stiffer the foot is at ground contact the less energy is absorbed and dissipated. This is an important point considering that the impact forces experienced during running are on the order of 3-6x an athlete’s bodyweight and an athlete’s capacity to handle this impact and quickly accelerate their body in the opposite direction is the key to running speed.

People who are pigeon-toed may be able to contact the ground with less energy dissipation and as a result be able to apply greater propulsive forces to the ground in a shorter period of time. A good analogy would be that pigeon-toed athletes are like super-bouncy balls- they get on the ground and get off the ground quickly without losing much energy. People who are not pigeon-toed are more like a deflated beach ball- their foot lacks the stiffness of pigeon-toed people and as a result the energy return is not as efficient.

There is a flip side to these potential benefits though. There is a growing amount of research that suggests that the very same traits that may cause these athletes to be fast, increases their likelihood of injury. People who are pigeon-toed are often bow-legged and flat-footed. People with these traits often incur ankle, knee and hip injuries both during their playing days and later in life due to the fact that their feet are acting like a very tightly wound spring rather than a cushy crash-pad. As a result, their bodies take a bigger hit from the impact than their non-pigeon-toed friends.
I'll be honest - its not a correlation I have noticed personally. Of all the athletes I have seen (who I would class as 'gifted') I can't actually think of one that in-toed... Anyone else?
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Old 20th December 2010, 08:51 AM
Ella Hurrell Ella Hurrell is offline
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

No, don't think I've ever noticed a particularly high proportion of in-toeing in the athletes I have seen over the years. I have noticed a large number of keen football and rugby players that have tibial varum but that's probably another story....
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Old 20th December 2010, 09:27 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

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Originally Posted by Ella Hurrell View Post
I have noticed a large number of keen football and rugby players that have tibial varum but that's probably another story....
Not so much in rugby, but certainly in footballers (soccer players).
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Old 20th December 2010, 09:43 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

I agree with the observations of tibial varum in elite soccer players. What are we thinking...

(a) play a lot of soccer from a young age = bone remodelling = most soccer players have similar shape legs?

or

(b) those who are given that skeletal morphology (genetically) seem to excel at soccer = most soccer players have similar shape legs?

Does the soccer cause the legs (shape) or the legs cause the soccer (ability)?
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Old 20th December 2010, 09:59 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

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Originally Posted by Ian View Post
I agree with the observations of tibial varum in elite soccer players. What are we thinking...

(a) play a lot of soccer from a young age = bone remodelling = most soccer players have similar shape legs?

or

(b) those who are given that skeletal morphology (genetically) seem to excel at soccer = most soccer players have similar shape legs?

Does the soccer cause the legs (shape) or the legs cause the soccer (ability)?
Indeed - I have pondered over this a lot. I'm not aware of any research so far to support either theory. Perhaps this could be your next project Ian if the golf course is buried under the snow?
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Old 20th December 2010, 10:10 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

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Originally Posted by Ella Hurrell View Post
Indeed - I have pondered over this a lot. I'm not aware of any research so far to support either theory. Perhaps this could be your next project Ian if the golf course is buried under the snow?
Why not search for old pictures of elite football players from when they were in their adolescence and compare with modern pictures of them?

Which raises the question, how much does tibial varum change with age regardless of whether or not you kick a pigs bladder around for a living?
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Old 20th December 2010, 10:27 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

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Originally Posted by Simon Spooner View Post
Why not search for old pictures of elite football players from when they were in their adolescence and compare with modern pictures of them?

Which raises the question, how much does tibial varum change with age regardless of whether or not you kick a pigs bladder around for a living?
Not alway easy to get aforementioned pics, but here's a starter for ten - Scott Parker in a Maccy D's ad when 13 years old:



And here he is aged 27:



Slightly off the in-toeing topic now, this may be worthy of it's own thread Admin?
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Old 20th December 2010, 10:34 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

I would think that to start with you need to show that there really is a higher tibial varum among elite footballers compared to an age and gender matched population. Or is it just because the nature of the game automatically draws the eyes focus to their legs and feet and that they wear shorts so you can observe their legs more easily?

Maybe this could form the basis of your PhD Ian?
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Old 20th December 2010, 10:35 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

http://www.springerlink.com/content/...2/fulltext.pdf
http://ukpmc.ac.uk/abstract/MED/17016114/reload=0;jsessionid=02B33EEDCEBBD1A58D28EC1ABCB0C6 FD.jvm1
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Old 20th December 2010, 11:35 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKeXaZxBoIo

I'm always amazed that he doesn't trip himself. (Stevie Baggs, #90 in green)
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Old 22nd December 2010, 11:10 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

I have not examined O. J. Simpson in person, but I read when he was a child his mother made him wear his shoes on the opposite foot, IE left shoe on right foot, because he in- toed. I suppose he had metatarsus adductus. I think that foot type would keep the subtalar joint supinated and the foot a rigid lever to propel the body forward. That would only be an advantage if the muscles were strong enough to oppose the natural compensation of subtalar joint pronation. Dwight L. Bates, DPM, DABPS
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Old 22nd December 2010, 03:40 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics
Issue: Volume 16(4), July/August 1996, pp 489-491
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Old 22nd December 2010, 03:46 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Quote:
Originally Posted by STEVE LEVITZ View Post
Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics
Issue: Volume 16(4), July/August 1996, pp 489-491
Thanks Steve, full abstract here.

So back to the original question... are people seeing this with their 'gifted' runner patients or athletes? I myself am not. And I watch more than my fair share of athletics both on TV and at the track - it's not a trend I see there either.
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Old 22nd December 2010, 03:54 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics
Issue: Volume 16(4), July/August 1996, pp 489-491
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Old 22nd December 2010, 04:05 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Not in my experience. I'm not seeing top level athletes(local club athletes) but i would argue that sprinters have a greater tendancy toward slightly externally rotated foot progression angle in my clinical experience(although I would say that the progression angle is less externally rotated when sprinting than when walking)
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Old 22nd December 2010, 04:11 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

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Originally Posted by RobinP View Post
Not in my experience. I'm not seeing top level athletes(local
club athletes) but i would argue that sprinters have a greater tendancy toward slightly externally rotated foot progression angle in my clinical experience(although I would say that the progression angle is less externally rotated when sprinting than when walking)
I concur Robin, and most noticeable just out of the blocks. I've just found some footage on you tube of a race I had front row seats for at Crystal Palace Stadium two years ago - take a look from 1 min 04 seconds onwards just as Usain comes out of the corner. Not a pigeon toe in sight.



PS If you love athletics and have never seen Usain run in the flesh then get on it. Breath-taking.
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Old 22nd December 2010, 04:40 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

CRICKET PLAYERS
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Old 22nd December 2010, 04:44 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Care to expand Mark?
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Old 22nd December 2010, 04:49 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Gifted Athletes?
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Old 25th December 2010, 09:36 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Ok guys, it's no mystery. Guys who toe-in move better laterally. To get to the root of this problem look at the demands of the sport - not just the physiology of the lower limbs.
When is lateral movement important to an athlete? Think linebacker, tennis, running back, defensive back, basketball, any field sport position. If you want to try this out, stand up point your toes out; and, move side to side. Now point your toes in and do the same.
Mystery solved.
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Old 25th December 2010, 11:52 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian View Post
Care to expand Mark?
Haven't watched cricket for decades but if you think of bowlers of the past SOOOO many of them are/were pigeon-toed. The easist to recall, for an Englishman would be Tony Greig.
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Old 27th December 2010, 03:53 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Don't know from my own eyes but the word is Cathy Freeman is flat as a pancake
regards Phill Carter
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Old 28th December 2010, 12:31 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

yes, I have heard that Cathy Freeman is very flat footed, which is meant to result in poor biomechanics, however I dont think she is pigeon-toed... but I havent actually gone out and asked her...
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Old 28th December 2010, 07:47 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

I can think of two. Michale Jordan and Andre Agassi. I would think as a start, one would want to compare the statistics of percentage of "world class" athletes with in-toeing vs. the percentage in the general population.

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Old 30th December 2010, 06:04 AM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Quote:
Originally Posted by gaittec View Post
Ok guys, it's no mystery. Guys who toe-in move better laterally. To get to the root of this problem look at the demands of the sport - not just the physiology of the lower limbs.
When is lateral movement important to an athlete? Think linebacker, tennis, running back, defensive back, basketball, any field sport position. If you want to try this out, stand up point your toes out; and, move side to side. Now point your toes in and do the same.
Mystery solved.
Gaittec,

Did you read the original blog which was the reason for this thread? Rhetoric - as you clearly didn't. It suggested that in-toeing made athletes faster. End of. You have solved a mystery that did not need solving, as we were not referring to lateral movement. (It may help a running back, but this wouldn't really help a 100m sprinter would it?)

I'll say it again - in the fastest athletes I've seen not one has in-toed. And you?
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Old 5th January 2011, 05:57 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian View Post
Just came across this blog entry:
I'll be honest - its not a correlation I have noticed personally. Of all the athletes I have seen (who I would class as 'gifted') I can't actually think of one that in-toed... Anyone else?
IAN: Your point is well taken. But, I just can't stand here with my toes pointing toward each other and let it rest.

YES, many "great athletes" have great lateral speed and are in-toed.

"While we don't know that intoeing provides an athletic advantage, we do know that it isn't a disadvantage. Many successful sprinters and other athletes are pigeon-toed, and a study done at Seattle Children's Hospital in 1996 found that high school sprinters tend to intoe more while sprinting than high school students who aren't runners. Intoeing won't necessarily make a child a faster runner, but we know from these examples that it won't hurt her athletic ability, either," says Thomas Jinguji, a pediatrician and sports medicine physician at Seattle Children's Hospital."

"Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
Most football coaches can pick their halfbacks just by watching them walk. The fastest runners are often flat footed, pigeon toed, and bow legged. When you run, you land on the outside bottom part of your foot and roll toward the inside. Most flat feet appear flat because the ankles roll in excessively causing the arches to touch the ground. Excessive rolling in causes feet to hit the ground with greater force to drive you forward faster.

Pigeon toes require very strong medial shin muscles to point your feet inward and shin muscles raise you up on your toes as you step off to the other foot. People with bowed legs have knees that whip inward as they step off from one foot to the other, which drives them forward with greater force and helps them to run faster. A football coach can often pick his halfbacks by looking for students with flat feet, pigeon toes, and bow legs."

Many Dinosaurs were pigeon-toed
Sauropodamorphs to 5 km/h (about the walking speed of people)
Stegosaurs and ankylosaurs to 6-8 km/h
Most sauropods walked about 12-17 km/h, with maximum of 20-30 km/h
Large theropods (like T. rex) and ornithopods to 20 km/h
Ceratopsians to 25 km/h
Small theropods, ornithopods to 40km/h
Ornithomimids to 60 km/h
People are estimated to run up to 23 km/h if pigeon toed (fast sprinting speed)

Ok, I cheated a little.

You are correct. Have a great day.
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Old 7th January 2011, 01:15 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

From personal experience I would say that the percentage of pigeon toed gifted athletes is very small and that they succeed not because they are pigeon toed but in spite of being pigeon toed?

Have a good year.

Bill Donaldson
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Old 9th January 2011, 09:27 PM
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Default Re: Why are so many gifted athletes pigeon-toed?

Lleyton Hewitt - although struggling at the moment was once lightning fast

Not professional athlete but does a lot of running in his "matrix" movies Keanu Reaves
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