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Bowlegs

Definition

Bowlegs is a condition in which the knees remain wide apart when a person stands with the feet and ankles together.

Alternative Names

Genu varum

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Infants are born bowlegged because of their folded position in the uterus. The infant's bowed legs begin to straighten once the child starts to walk and the legs begin to bear weight (about 12 to 18 months old).

Normal appearance is usually attained by the time the child is 3 years old. At this time, a child can usually stand with the ankles together and the knees just touch. If the bowed legs persist into this period, the child is called bowlegged.

Severely bowed legs can be a sign of rickets. Rickets is caused by a vitamin D deficiency, and in the United States, breast-fed infants with dark skin are most at risk. Other causes of bowleggedness include Blount's disease, bone dysplasias, and lead or fluoride intoxication.

Symptoms

  • Knees do not touch when standing with feet together (ankles touching)
  • Bowing of legs is same on both side of the body (symmetrical)
  • Bowed legs continue beyond age 3

Signs and tests

A doctor can usually diagnose bowlegs by simply looking at the child. Blood tests may be needed to rule out rickets.

X-rays may be necessary if the child is 3 years old or older, if the bowing is getting worse, if it is asymmetric, or if other findings suggest disease.

Treatment

No treatment is recommended for bowlegs unless the condition is extreme. The child should be reassessed at least every 6 months.

If the condition is severe, special shoes can be worn that rotate the feet outward with an 8 to 10 inch bar between them, although it is unclear how well these work. Occasionally, in an adolescent with severe bowlegs, surgery is performed to correct the deformity.

Expectations (prognosis)

In many cases the outcome is good, and there is usually no problem walking.

Complications

There are usually no complications.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if your child shows persistent or worsening bowed legs after age 3.

Prevention

There is no known prevention other than that to avoid rickets. Make sure your child has normal exposure to sunlight and appropriate levels of vitamin D in the diet.

References

Canale ST. Osteochondrosis or epiphysitis and other miscellaneous affections. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 29.


Review Date: 12/1/2008
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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