A pigeon toe when running doesn't sound like a flattering condition, but all it means is that your feet turn slightly inward when striking the ground. The name is given because your form is likened to the appearance of the ungainly bird, but it's not as bad for running as many tend to believe. Some of the world's fastest athletes have a bit of a pigeon toe, but if it does cause pain, focus on form, or purchase shoes with more cushion.
Causing the Pigeon Walk
Pigeon-toed walking, also known as intoeing, is usually a childhood condition, and most cases are simply grown out of. The condition is often caused by the twisting of certain bones in the lower body. These can be the tibia, femur or the bones of the feet. These twisted bones can sometimes be caused by how a child was positioned in the womb, but most cases will straighten with growth. The condition does not predispose anyone to arthritis, and sports performance is generally not affected. Little can be done to correct the condition, but it's very uncommon for a person to walk with a permanent pigeon toe, according to Kids Health.
Shoes and Form for the Pigeon Toe
One of the most common issues for running with a pigeon toe is the shape of the foot, which can lead to poor fitting in certain types of shoes. Intoed runners may require a wider width shoe, and should also find one with more cushion, as the lack of pronation will cause a stiffer impact. If your pigeon-toed running form is causing you knee pain, you can correct this by focusing on keeping your feet facing forward, and contacting the ground with the outside of the foot and rolling inward. This is referred to as full pronation. The makeup of your bone structure will determine the amount of correction that will be possible.
Pigeons are Fast
While you may want to correct your pigeon-toed gait for aesthetic reasons, the condition doesn't slow you down. According to strength and speed coach Mike Young, many coaches in football, track and other sports actually seek out pigeon-toed athletes, as there are a disproportionate number of them who are fast. A normal running gait features a roll of the foot from the outside in, but intoeing doesn't allow this to occur. This leads to foot strike with less give, which allows the runner to operate like a coiled spring, and achieve a more powerful push off the ground with less wasted energy.
Contrary to popular belief, pigeon toes do not cause arthritis or clumsiness. When the condition is severe, the curve in the tibia or femur could bother a person for aesthetic reasons. This would require surgery to correct, according to The Colorado Foot Institute. In some cases pigeon-toed walking or running can lead to malalignment, which causes anterior knee pain, a condition that is more common for women. The lack of foot roll also leads to more of a severe impact with the ground, which can lead to pain if not addressed, according Young.
Jeff Nowak has worked as a sports reporter for The Hartford Courant and The Daily Voice, and a copy editor for Bleacher Report. He is currently a sports editor for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism.