Holy twisted tibias Batman! What is going here in this R sided knee pain patient?

In the 1st picture note this patient is in a neutral posture. Note how far externally rotated her right foot is compared to the left. Note that when you drop a plumbline down from the tibial tuberosity it does not pass-through or between the second and third metatarsals. Also note the incident left short leg
In the next picture both of the patients legs are fully externally rotated. Note the large disparity from right to left. Because of the limited extra rotation of the right hip this patient most likely has femoral retro torsion. This means that the angle of her femoral head is at a greater than 12° angle. We would normally expect approximately 40° of external Rotation. 4 to 6° is requisite for normal gait and supination.

In the next picture the patients knees are fully internally rotated you can see that she has an excessive amount of internal rotation on the right compare to left, confirming her femoral antetorsion.

When this patient puts her feet straight (last picture), her knees point to the inside causing the patello femoral dysfunction right greater than left. No wonder she has right-sided knee pain!

Because of the degree of external tibial torsion (14 to 21° considered normal), activity modification is imperative. A foot leveling orthotic with a modified UCB, also inverting the orthotic is helpful to bring her foot somewhat more to the midline (the orthotic pushes the knee further outside the sagittal plane and the patient internally rotate the need to compensate, thus giving a better alignment).

a note on tibial torsion. As the fetus matures, The tibia then rotates externally, and most newborns have an average of 0- 4° of internal tibial torsion. At birth, there should be little to no torsion of the tibia; the proximal and distal portions of the bone have little angular difference (see above: top). Postnatally, the tibia should twist outward (externally) a total of 15 degrees until adult values are reached between ages 8 and 10 years of 23° of external tibial torsion (range, 0° to 40°). more cool stuff on torsions here

Wow, cool stuff, eh?

Now THERE”S some internal tibial torsion!

So, this gent came in to see us with L sided knee pain after it collapsed with an audible “pop” during a baseball game. He has +1/+2 laxity in his ACL on that side. He has subpatellar and joint line pain on full flexion, which is limited slightly to 130 (compared to 145 right)

 We know he has internal torsion because a line drawn from the tibial tuberosity dropped inferiorly does not pass through or near the plane of the 2nd metatarsal (more on tibial torsions here)

What would you do? Here’s what we did:

  • acupuncture to reduce swelling
  • took him out of his motion control shoes (which pitch him further outside the saggital plane)
  • gave him propriosensory exercises (1 leg balance: eyes open/ eyes closed; 1 legged mini squats, BOSU ball standing: eyes open/eyes closed)
  • potty squats in a pain free range
  • ice prn
  • asked him to avoid full flexion

Is it any wonder he injured his knee? Imagine placing the FOOT in the saggital plane, which places the knee FAR outside it; now load the joint an twist, OUCH!

Abdominal Activity and Gait

We came across this cool study today, after a well educated patient asked about abdominal activity during gait.

Here is the bottom line:
low level activity in the rectus abdominis and external oblique throughout the gait cycle, more concentrated activity of the internal oblique at initial contact/loading response (heel strike).

This makes sense, since the external oblique occupies more real estate and has a larger cross sectional area; it most likely has a role in stabilization both in rotational like emoticon planes as well as the saggital plane (Z). Perhaps the action of the internal oblique at initial contact is to assist in external rotation of the pelvis on the stance phase leg, as the the opposite leg goes into swing?

“Cluster analysis identified two patterns of activity for the internal oblique, external oblique and rectus abdominis muscles. In the lumbar erector spinae, three patterns of activity were observed. In most instances, the patterns observed for each muscle differed in the magnitude of the activation levels. In rectus abdominis and external oblique muscles, the majority of subjects had low levels of activity (<5.0% of a maximum voluntary contraction) that were relatively constant throughout the stride cycle. In the internal oblique and the erector spinae muscles, more distinct bursts of activity were observed, most often close to foot-strike. The different algorithms used for the cluster analysis yielded similar results and a discriminant function analysis provided further evidence to support the patterns observed”

Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2002 Mar;17(3):177-84.
Abdominal and erector spinae muscle activity during gait: the use of cluster analysis to identify patterns of activity.
White SG1, McNair PJ.

What would you do? This is what we did.


This 7 year old girl is brought in by her mother because of knee misalignment while skiing, L > R. No history of trauma; normal term birth with no complications. No knee pain. Of incidental note, she is deaf in the left ear.

Exam findings:

She has bi-lat. external tibial torsion, left much worse than right (40 degrees transmallolear angle vs 22 degrees. for info on measuring torsions, click here). remember, you should be able to draw a line from the tibial tuberosity down through the 2nd metatarsal head. 

She has a 5mm anatomical leg length deficiency on the right (see top above left).

She has femoral antetorsion right side with very little external rotation, approximately 10 degrees,  internal rotation is in excess of 50.  Left side has normal femoral versions (for a review of femoral versions and torsions, click here).  See last 2 pictures which are full internal and external rotation respectively.

She has a mild uncompensated forefoot varus (cannot really see from the pictures, you will need to take our word for it) with a relatively cavus arch to her foot(see center and last picture on right.

Neurologically, she appeared to have integrity with respect to sensation, motor strength and deep tendon reflexes in the lower extremities.


Pathomechanical alignment as described.  Severe left external tibial torsion. MIld to moderate right. Femoral antetorsion right.


We are going to build her a medium heel cup full length modified UCB orthotic inverting the cast bi-lat. left greater than right.  We gave her  balance and coordination exercises, heel walking, lift/spread/reach and one leg balancing. She will follow up for a dispense.  Her mother will try to get a better fitting ski boot as the one she has currently is two sizes too big. She will return for a dispense. She should consider wearing the orthotics in everyday footwear as well. We will do a follow up post in a few weeks. 

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Wow! What would you do?

This is part 1 of a 2 part post. Look for the other one a few minutes after this one with a video up top for the conclusion

PRESENTING PROBLEM: This 54 YO female patient presents with with left sided knee pain.  She had a total knee replacement (TKR) done in 2011.  She’s had a significant amount of discomfort on the medial aspect of the knee since then. She had an MRI of the hip done thinking the problem was there, and found nothing.   She is walking with a bad limp, left leg is half inch shorter than the right.  Pain is worse at night, changes with weather. 

She has knee pain on the lateral aspect (points to tibial plateau and joint line) with swelling that goes down to the ankle left side.  She has been wearing a “Good Feet” OTC orthotic on the left side which she states helps quite a bit.

Generally speaking, stretching and analgesics make the discomfort better.    Ibuprofen 400 mg. b.i.d. can take the edge off  Soft sided brace (neoprene sleeve) makes a difference as well. The hard sided brace gives her difficulty.

WORK HISTORY: She works for a preschool.  Her job involves standing and getting up and down a lot.  

FAMILY HISTORY:  She has left sided lid ptosis, this evidently is familial.  

PHYSICAL EXAM:  She stood 5’ 1” and weighed approx. 150 pounds.

Viewing the knees bi-lat., the left knee is markedly externally rotated.

She does have a left short leg; tibial and femoral.  She has bilateral tibial torsion (look at the tibial tuberosities and drop a line straight down; it should pass through the 2nd metatarsal head) and marked internal tibial torsion on the left side (>60 degrees) with femoral retrotorsion (less than 8 degree angle of femoral head with the shaft) on this side.  There is no rotation of the thigh or leg past zero degrees midline. .  She had 10 degrees of tibial varum on the left hand side.  Her Q-angle is 10 degrees on that side.  There is plantar flexion inversion of the foot.  Left lower extremity has less sensation secondary to the her TKR  surgery.

Gait evaluation reveals a fair amount of midfoot pronation noted on the left hand side in addition to an intoed gait.  She has to lean her body over to the left to get the right leg to clear.

Some mild weakness noted of hip abduction musculature left hand side gluteus medius, middle and anterior fibers. Knee stability tests were negative.

Neurologically, otherwise, she had full integrity with respect to sensation, motor strength and deep tendon reflexes in the upper and lower extremities.

Please see part 2 of this post for additional info including our assessment and what WE did.

 The Gait Guys. Making it real, each and every post here on the blog.

special thanks to SZ for allowing us to publish her case, so others can learn

How do you measure tibial torsion anyway?

With all the talk on the Crossfit blog about the knees out debate, we though we would shed some light on measuring torsions, beginning with tibial torsion, since this does not seem to have been taken account of in the discussion and we feel it is germane. 

Yo may have seen some of our other posts in tibial torsion here or here; this post will serve to help you measure it. 

Looking at the top left picture: we can see that the axis of the tibial plateau and the transmalleolar axis (an imaginary line drawn through the medial and lateral malleolus) are parallel at birth (net angle zero) and progress to 22 degrees at skeletal maturity, resulting from the outward rotation of the tibia of about 1-1.5 degrees per year. This results in a normal external tibial version of about 17-18 degrees (you subtract 5 degrees for the talar neck angle, talked about in the link above). Note that this is the normal or ideal angle we would expect (hope?) to see. Go 2 standard deviations in either direction and we have external and internal tibial torsions.

You can go about taking this measurement in may ways; we will outline 2 of them. 

  1. In the upper left picture, we see an individual who has their knee flexed to 90 degrees over the side of a table while seated. This represents the tibial plateau angle. You the use a protractor to measure the angle between the tibial plateau and an imaginary line drawn through the medial and lateral malleoli. This is the transmalleolar angle. You then subtract 5 degrees from this number (remember the talar neck angle?) to get the angle of tibial version (or torsion).
  2. In the lower left and right pictures, we have the patient supine with the knees pointed upward and tibial plateau flat on the table. Then, working from inferiorly, use a goniometer to measure the angle of the transmalleolar axis. Again, we subtract 5 degrees for the talar neck.

We would encourage you to read up on torsions. This post, which we wrote over a year ago, is probably one of the most important ones on tibial torsions. 

Torsions. Important stuff, especially when you are talking about the axis of the knees in activities like a squat. Remember, the knee is a hinge between 2 multiaxial joints (hip and ankle) and will often take the brunt of the (patho)mechanics, as it has fewer degrees of freedom of movement. If you have external tibial torsion and you push your knees (angle your feet) out further, you are moving the knees outside the saggital plane. You have better have a very competent medial tripod! If you have internal tibial torsion, angling the feet out may be a good idea. Know your (or your patients/clients/athletes) anatomy!

The Gait Guys. Bald, Good Looking and Twisted. Here to help you navigate your way through better biomechanics. 

ETT and Hip Extension

Not Extra Terrestrial Tricks, but rather External Tibial Torsion. How it effects hip extension.

We received this question from Matthew P on our Facebook post from 8/1 (original post from here) which was based on this article, and thought it would make an excellent opportunity to teach. 

I looked at this yesterday and had actually first come across it a year or more ago when I was trying to find some resources for femoral torsion. You guys are about the only ones discussing at length the impact and implication of adult femoral torsion.

Re: tibial torsion and your post yesterday saying that > 30deg external torsion can affect both knee and hip extension, what I still don’t understand is the mechanism behind the hip limitation. How would that torsion translate through the leg to the hip?

There are a few things we need to remember to make sense of this:

  • tibial torsion is the angular difference between the tibial plateau and distal tibial malleoli and refers only to the tibia, not the entire lower extremity (see top photo)
  • pronation can occur in the rear foot, mid foot, and fore foot
  • pronation causes internal spin of the leg and thigh, due to plantar flexion, eversion and abduction of the talus (see middle photo)
  • internal spin of the hip causes posterior translation of the femoral head via the “glide and roll” phenomenon
  • these are appropriate mechanics during the 1st 1/2 of the gait cycle (initial contact to mid stance)
  • pronation is one of the 4 shock absorbing mechanisms (pronation, ankle dorsiflexion, knee flexion, hip flexion) of the lower extremity

now try this (yes, at home!)

  • flex your knee
  • internally rotate you leg
  • allow your arch to flatten
  • try and extend your hip

Remember these facts about supination

  • supination is initiated by the swing phase leg as it starts in early swing and continues to terminal swing (see third picture)
  • supination (from full pronation), should occur from midstance to pre swing
  • supination makes the foot into a “rigid lever” to transpose forces from above the foot into the foot and allow for propulsion (see third picture)
  • supination involves external rotation of the lower leg and thigh (see pictures 3 and 4)
  • external rotation of the hip is accompanied by anterior glide of the femoral head via the “glide and roll” phenomenon
  • this position puts the gluteal muscles (max and posterior fibers of the gluteus medius) at a mechanical advantage

now try this:

  • extend your knee
  • externally rotate your leg
  • you should have a full arch at this point
  • try and extend your hip

What did you (hopefully) learn?

  1. When the hip is in an externally rotated position it is easier to extend; the femur head moves anteriorly, the femoral joint capsule becomes tighter and stability is created
  2. when the hip is internally rotated, it is more difficult to extend
  • the femur head glides posteriorly, changing the axis of rotation of the joint
  • the gluteus maximus and posterior fibers of the gluteus medius are at a mechanical disadvantage

OK. Got it? We sure hope so! Excellent question, Matthew. Thanks for the opportunity to teach this concept.

The Gait Guys. Taking you closer to mastering the gait cycle with each post.