What to do when your child's legs aren't straight

May 25, 2016
My child’s legs aren’t straight. Is that OK?  This is a question some parents ask as they watch their children grow in their early years. The answer is: It depends. 

During the first six to seven years of life, your child’s legs change shape a lot. The natural progression is: bowlegged to straight to knock-kneed and then back to straight. Bowlegs after 2 years of age and knock-knees after 7 years are not normal.  

After nine months curled up in the womb, kids are born with bowlegs and an internal twist to their lower legs.

It’s normal for babies to have bowlegs until they are about a year old.  Their legs should straighten out by the time they are 1 ½ to 2, and then become knock-kneed. This position, called genu valgum, peaks at around 3 to 5 years, depending on the child. Then the child’s legs straighten out again. 

By 6 or 7, your child’s legs will be done morphing and the alignment you see will carry your child into adulthood.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two development stages that might raise concerns:
  • If your toddler’s legs are still bowed at 2, this could indicate a problem with the growth plate of the tibia, or shinbone. Take your child to see his or her primary doctor, who may recommend X-rays or a visit with a pediatric orthopedic doctor.
  • If your child is still knock-kneed by 8, his or her legs likely will not correct on their own. A pediatric orthopedic specialist can evaluate your child and suggest ways to prevent bad knee alignment as an adult. 
If you have questions about your child’s leg alignment, talk to your pediatrician, who may recommend consulting a specialist. To make an appointment with a Swedish pediatrician, call 1-800-793-3474. You can learn about Swedish pediatric Orthopedics here.
Topics: Kids, Orthopedic