Bowlegs and Knock-Knees


Bowlegs and Knock-Knees in Children

If your toddler's legs seem to curve outward at the knees, there's probably no reason for concern. Look around, and you'll see that few young children have truly straight legs. In fact, many children between the ages of 1 and 2 appear quite bowlegged, and it's common for children from 3 to 6 to look "knock-kneed." Their legs may not look straight until the age of 9 or 10.

Bowlegs and knock-knees usually are just variations of normal, and they require no treatment. Ordinarily the legs straighten out and look perfectly normal by adolescence. Bracing, corrective shoes, and exercise are not helpful and, in fact, can hinder a child's physical development and cause emotional difficulty.

When to Call the Pediatrician for Bowlegs and Knock-Knees

Rarely, bowlegs or knock-knees are the result of a disease. Arthritis, injury to the growth plate around the knee, infection, tumor and rickets all can cause changes in the curvature of the legs. Here are some signs that suggest a child's bowlegs or knock-knees may be caused by a serious problem:

  • The curvature is extreme.
  • Only one side is affected.
  • The bowlegs get worse after age 2.
  • The knock-knees persist after age 7.
  • Your child also is unusually short for his age.

If your child's condition fits any of these descriptions, you should talk to your pediatrician, who can determine the exact cause and prescribe the necessary treatment. In some cases, the pediatrician will refer you to a pediatric orthopedist for consultation and possible corrective surgery. 

From Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Bantam 1999
© Copyright 2000 American Academy of Pediatrics