When children first start walking it’s normal for them to walk with their feet apart and waddle. It’s also common for young children to appear bow-legged or knock-kneed, or walk with their toes turned in or out. Whether your baby rises from a crawl with a shaky first step or a run across the living room, chances are you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
Learning to walk takes time and practice, and it’s common for kids to start walking with their toes and feet turned at an angle. When feet turn inward a tendency referred to as walking “pigeon-toed” doctors call it in-toeing. When feet point outward, it’s called out-toeing.
It can be scary initially to see your child develop an abnormal trait, but for most toddlers with in-toeing or out-toeing, it’s usually nothing to worry about. The conditions does not cause pain and usually improve as kids grow older.
Almost all healthy kids who toe-in or -out as toddlers learn to run, jump, and play sports as they grow up, just the same as kids without gait problems. However, it’s a good idea to point it out to your baby’s doctor, but it’s probably no cause for concern.
In-toeing usually happens when a foot, shin, or thigh twists inward and causes the toes to turn inward too. While intoeing can be genetic, the misalignment often develops when the baby’s feet or legs turn to fit in the cramped space of the womb. If you have a baby, take a look at the sole of your baby’s foot while he’s lying on his back. If the top part (from the middle of the foot to the toes) bends in and the outer edge curves like a half moon, then his intoeing is probably being caused by his curved foot.
Doctors call it metatarsus adductus, and it can be mild and flexible or more severe and rigid. It usually gets better on its own before a baby turns 6 months old. Parents often notice it about the time a baby begins to walk, and it often corrects itself before a child heads to school.
Another common cause of intoeing is a twisted thigh bone (or femur). The condition often doesn’t become obvious until a child is in nursery school, and it usually gets better by the time he’s between 6 and 8 years old.
A lot of doctors and paediatricians advice not to treat it at all however, a few doctors recommend casting, braces, special shoes, and even surgery, but in most cases intoeing corrects itself without any treatment at all. In fact, experts now point out that treatment can inhibit a baby’s ability to play and in some instances even cause other physical problems. (In rare instances, casts or surgery may be required to correct severe intoeing.)
Talk with the doctor if you’re at all concerned about your baby’s intoeing. They can tell you whether it’s something that’s likely to correct itself. (Severe intoeing can resemble clubfoot or accompany other foot problems that need to be addressed.)
When your baby is learning to walk and even once he’s young and running he may trip as he catches his toes on the opposite heel, but intoeing itself causes no pain. And it won’t affect your child’s athletic ability or cause him to develop arthritis or back trouble later on.
At any time, let the doctor know if you think your child’s in-toeing becomes worse or you notice that his feet or legs aren’t symmetrical. Also take your baby to the doctor if he develops pain, swelling, or a limp after he’s started walking.