Bowlegs | Diagnosis & Treatments

How is bowlegs diagnosed?

Bowlegs is usually obvious when a child stands with their legs straight and toes pointed forward. Your child’s physician can determine the severity of bowlegs by looking at the position of your child’s legs, knees, and ankles and by measuring the distance between their knees. Observing your child as they walk also helps assess both bowing and rotation.

Most children with bowlegs do not need an x-ray. However, your child’s orthopedic specialist may order an x-ray if they see signs or symptoms that your child’s bowlegs could be related to another disorder. Such signs include bowlegs that continue to get worse after the age of 2, asymmetric bowing of the legs, or a limp when walking.

How is bowlegs treated?

Most children with bowlegs do not need medical treatment. Your child’s doctor will observe your child over time to be sure their legs straighten out on their own.

If your child’s bowlegs are caused by another condition, such as rickets or Blount’s disease, their doctor will treat that condition.

Your child’s doctor will take several factors into account to decide the best treatment for your child’s bowlegs:

  • your child’s age, overall health, and medical history
  • the extent of the condition
  • the cause of the condition
  • your baby’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • probability that bowlegs will interfere with your child’s future mobility

If your child’s legs do not grow straighter on their own, or if your child’s legs continue to become more curved after age 2, their doctor may recommend a corrective brace or surgery.

  • Leg braces can slowly move the legs into a straighter position.
  • Osteotomy surgery on the upper part of the shinbone can correct the lower limb alignment. This procedure is used only for the most severe cases of bowlegs.

How are other conditions related to bowlegs treated?

Treatment for Blount’s disease usually involves a combination of non-surgical and surgical measures that include wearing a special brace. The brace, known as a modified knee-ankle-foot orthosis (KAFO), must be worn day and night (23 hours a day). This releases the compression in the area of the knee to allow your child’s legs to grow normally. Young children with Blount’s disease may not need surgery if the brace alone corrects the problem.

Rickets can be corrected by adding vitamin D and calcium to your child’s diet. Children diagnosed with rickets are usually referred to an endocrinologist for help with their medical management.

What is the long-term outlook for children with bowlegs?

Most children with bowlegs grow out of the condition and are able to walk, run, and play without problem.

Severe bowlegs or bowlegs caused by an underlying condition often require treatment. Otherwise, severe bowlegs can lead to leg deformity, trouble walking or running, and a higher risk of arthritis as an adult.