Having bowlegs is usually a normal part of growth in babies below 18 months. Bowlegs is a condition involving the shin and thigh (tibia and femur) bones. It causes both legs to curve outward. It typically can be seen when a child stands with the feet together and a space appears between the lower legs and knees.
Bowlegs usually go away on their own by the time your child is four or five years old. But sometimes stays as old as eight years old. But if your child remains bow-legged, it may be a sign of an underlying bone disease, such as Blount’s disease or rickets which occurs due to Vitamin D deficiency.
Walking often exaggerates this bowed appearance. Adolescents occasionally have bowlegs. In many of these cases, the child is significantly overweight. However, bowlegs will not affect a child’s ability to crawl, walk, run or play. In most cases, children outgrow these conditions without needing any special treatments.
What Causes Bowlegs?
Most often, bowlegs develop as part of natural growth. Infants are born bow-legged because of their folded position in the mother’s womb. Bowlegs begin to straighten once the child starts to walk and the legs begin to bear weight (about 12 to 18 months old).
By around age 3, the child can most often stand with the ankles apart and the knees just touching. Bowlegs may be due to illnesses, such as:
- Blount’s disease, a growth disorder of the shin bone (also known as the tibia) possibly caused by effects of weight on the growth plate.
- Abnormal development or malformation of the bones.
- Bone fractures that do not heal properly.
- Lead or fluoride poisoning.
- Rickets, caused by a vitamin D deficiency.
What are The Symptoms?
Depending on the cause of bowleg, symptoms can differ from person to person. The most common signs and symptoms are:
- Knees that do not touch when standing with feet together (ankles touching)
- Bowing of legs is same on both sides of the body
- Bowlegs that are present well after your child begins walking.
- If the bowing is excessive, or if the condition persists into adolescence or adulthood, pain and problems with knee joint function are common long-term effects.
Bowleg diagnosis can be made during a physical examination by measuring the distance between the knees. If your child has symmetrical bowing (the same amount of bowing in both legs), then your doctor will not do any more tests.
However, if your doctor notes that one leg is more severe than the other, he or she may recommend an x-ray of the lower legs. An x-ray of your child’s legs in the standing position can show Blount’s disease or rickets. If the x-ray shows signs of rickets, your doctor will order blood tests to confirm the presence of this disorder.
Treatment for Bowlegs
If your child has bow legs, his legs will usually line up properly by the time he starts school, and he won’t need any treatment.
If the bowing doesn’t improve after this age, and the bow legs are severe, a specialist might think about night splints. These are a type of brace worn at night to try and straighten the legs. They might be a bit uncomfortable for your child, but they’re not usually painful to wear.
If bowing is severe, your child’s doctor my recommend an osteotomy, an operation on the upper part of the shinbone that would correct the lower limb alignment. Treatment of Blount’s disease usually involves a combination of non-operative measures that include wearing a special brace and osteotomy.
What should I do if my child has bow legs or knock knees?
In most cases, children outgrow these conditions without needing any special treatments. However, if the condition is severe, if one leg is worse than the other or your child is in pain or limping, they may need to see a bone specialist to have their knees and feet examined.
If your child has one of these conditions and they may need help, see your doctor for advice.
There is no sure way to prevent bowlegs, other than to avoid rickets. Make sure your child gets enough sunlight and gets the proper amount of vitamin D in their diet.