What are Bowlegs

Bowlegs is a condition in which the legs bend outward from the hips to the ankles. It is also called genu varum.

Some forms of this condition are considered normal in young children and usually resolve on their own by the time the child reaches age 3 or 4. Other forms of this condition are not considered normal and require treatment.

What are the causes?

This condition may be caused by:

  • Being in a curled position in the womb.
  • Genetics. A child with a parent who had bowlegs may also have it.
  • Rickets. This is a bone disease that may make the bones weak or soft or cause them to develop poorly.
  • Blount disease. This results from abnormal growth in the large bone of the lower leg (tibia) near the knee.
  • Abnormal bone growth (bone dysplasia).
  • Injury (rare).
  • Infection (rare).
  • A tumor (rare).
  • Lead poisoning or fluoride poisoning (rare).

What are the signs or symptoms?

Children with this condition have a wide space between their knees when they stand with their feet and ankles together. Their toes may point inward when they walk. They may trip often and walk awkwardly.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed with a physical exam and X-rays. Your child may also have blood tests.

How is this treated?

In most cases, the legs straighten on their own with time, and treatment is not needed. However, treatment is usually needed if a child has rickets or Blount disease or if his or her legs do not straighten on their own. Treatment may involve:

  • Leg braces that help to straighten the legs.
  • Shoes that force the feet to turn out. These are not used often.
  • Surgery to correct the positioning (alignment) of the bones. Surgery may be needed if a child has Blount disease. Surgery may also be an option for children who have bone dysplasia or have bowing that does not stop or go away.
  • Medicine or nutritional support. This may be an option for children who have rickets.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • If your child is to wear leg braces or shoes that make the feet turn out, make sure that he or she wears them as directed by his or her health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as directed by your child’s health care provider. This is important.
  • Give medicines only as directed by your child’s health care provider.
  • Follow any diet instructions that are given by your child’s health care provider.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your child’s condition gets worse.
  • Your child has trouble using the braces or shoes that were prescribed.
  • Your child is not growing as expected.
  • Your child has pain in his or her hips or legs.
  • Your child has weakness or has difficulty walking.

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