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Should I Worry About the Way My Son Walks?

My 15-month-old son walks with his feet turned in. My pediatrician assured me that it’s normal and that he’ll outgrow it. But I’m still worried. Won’t walking this way hurt him? Will he be able to play sports? Isn’t there something that doctors can do to straighten out his stride?
Allison

Many toddlers walk with their feet turned in, a tendency sometimes referred to as "walking pigeon-toed." The medical name for it is in-toeing, and it usually corrects itself without any medical treatment. In most cases children go on to walk, run, and play sports without any problems.

In the past, special shoes and braces were used to treat in-toeing. But doctors found that these devices didn't make in-toeing disappear any faster, so they're not typically used anymore.

What causes in-toeing? As babies are growing in the womb, the tibia bones (the large bones between the knees and ankles) rotate inward to accommodate the baby's fit within the uterus. Sometimes the femur bones (the bones between the hips and knees) also turn inward. So when children are learning to walk, their feet often turn in.

In-toeing usually disappears as kids develop and improve walking skills, usually around 4 to 6 years old.

Since in-toeing usually disappears gradually, it can be difficult for parents to notice any improvement from day to day. Doctors often suggest that parents who are concerned about in-toeing take a video of the child walking (from the front and the back) and take another video 1 year later. By watching and comparing the videos it's easier to determine whether the in-toeing has improved. If it has not, talk with your doctor.

In some cases in-toeing is a sign of an injury or illness, and the child needs evaluation and possible treatment. Call the doctor if your child:

  • is in-toeing and limping
  • seems to have pain in the feet or legs
  • is not learning to walk or talk as expected
  • has in-toeing that is getting worse
  • has one foot that turns in much more than the other
  • is 3 years old and the in-toeing has not started to improve

Reviewed by: Alfred Atanda Jr., MD
Date reviewed: November 2011
Originally reviewed by: Mihir Thacker, MD

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