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

May 25, 2016 Swedish Blogger

a child's legs dangling off the side of the bed


In this article:

  • It’s normal for children’s legs to change shape as they age.

  • Bowlegs after 2 years and knock-knees after 7 are not normal.

  • Talk to your Swedish physician if you are concerned about your child’s leg development.

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 old, 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. 

Find a doctor

If you have questions about your child’s leg alignment, contact the pediatrics department at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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