Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Turn-out Turn Coat

How did we come to this point of turning out our left leg so much while performing?

1.  Western civilization used to be one of dancing and military turnout, both of which demand external turnout on a regular basis.  While we are no longer a culture of formal dancing, the turn out remains.

2.  We learn our habits of standing, walking, etc from our parents/teachers/elders as a child.  If you compare your habits with your parents', you'll probably find that you have a similar gait, stance, or way of holding yourself.

3.  Musicians, on the whole, resist change.  For hundreds of years, musicians have been turning out legs/hips/feet, standing on one leg, balancing precariously, etc.  Many notable pedagogues have touted their stance technique as promoting balance.  While many of these folks are important teachers and musicians in their own right, our understanding of the body is constantly changing, which means we should change our teaching and habits accordingly.

What are the short and long term effects of turn-out?

These are some of those external rotators of the hip, which may in fact be asymmetrical contracting, weak on one side, etc.

These are some of those external rotators of the hip, which may in fact be asymmetrical contracting, weak on one side, etc.

1.  Transference-whether you're a little kid learning twinkle, twinkle, or a grown-up who plays viola and runs, it's likely that your standing habits transfer to all of your other activities.  This means that you have a slight turn out when you walk, squat, run, etc.  This transference is what can really lead to injury, tightness, and extreme asymmetry down the road.  Kids are fortunately very malleable, and their bodies are perpetually changing, as are their abilities to propriocept.  

2.  Feet-I know I've mentioned it before, but bunions and hammertoes are also correlated with turn-out as well as tight shoes.  Also, your feet may be supination or pronating, in addition to the turn out issue, which can compound issues.

3.  Knees- When we turn our feet out, we can try to turn out from the lower shin/ankle, or externally rotate the whole leg and hip.  When we just turn out the lower leg, this can put undue stress on the knee, because one is facing forward and one out.  Then imagine putting load onto that asymmetry-running, crossfit, etc.  Add foot instability, or collapsed arches, and there is an issue!  The video shows how gait changes a bit on that one side.

4. Hip woes- So the cause of this external rotation could be tight muscles on the same side hip, which in turn prevent the hip from turning internally as needed.  (AKA. Your abductors are adaptively tighter than your adductors).  This article fantastically explains how this happens.  What that means is that one side of the body may in turn be shorter than the other, and there may be discomfort on the side of the hip. 

In the end, the goal is to at least keep both legs in the same plane to start (one leg is not in front of another).  If you have extreme turnout, or have been turning out for many years, then gradually strengthening your adductors and slowly changing stance is the way to go.  If the body is exploring a new range of motion or posture, it won't be sustainable to stay in the "new normal," but it would be over time. 

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