Is your child’s walking style normal?

Are you concerned about your child’s walking style? Read on to find out what’s normal, and when to step up if there’s a problem. By Xanet van Vuuren


Although you might initially panick when you notice that your little one has a strange walking style, it’s actually quite common. In fact, many children exhibit strange walking styles as they grow older.

Paediatrician, Dr Mirjana Lucic, from Netcare Parklane Clinic, and orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Dirk van Zyl, from Netcare Wilgeheuwel Hospital in Johannesburg, shed some light on common childhood orthopaedic conditions such as flat feet, toe walking, pigeon toes (in-toeing), knock knees and bow legs.

Bow legs and knock knees

Bow legs is the exaggerated bending outward of the legs from the knees down. This is normal as babies are born with bow legs. This condition will gradually change as a child gets older and her legs should straighten out after her second birthday.

Bow legs will change to knock knees (when a child’s knees angle in and touch one another when her legs are straight). You may start noticing this more when your child is around four years old. However, her knock knees should gradually improve and eventually straighten out when your child is between six and eight years old.

Can you correct the problem? 

Bow legs usually correct themselves, and should disappear after your child’s second birthday. Knock knees will also straighten out on their own over time and should be completely gone by the time your child is eight years old.

When should you be concerned? 

  • If the bow legs or knock knees seem to be one-sided.
  • If the child is limping or complaining of pain.
  • If there is a huge delay in your child’s milestones.

In-toeing (Pigeon toes)

In-toeing is normal and causes a child’s toes to point inward when she walks. At birth, the hip is rotated outwards, so it’s normal for the foot to turn in to compensate for this. Children with an exaggeration of the normal rotation may be clumsy when they walk, but they’ll have no hindrance when they run, and can perform athletic activities normally. In-toeing can, however,  be abnormal in children who have dislocated hips or cerebral palsy.

Can you correct the problem? 

This problem will correct itself over time as children develop better muscle control and coordination. The in-toeing should be corrected at around eight years old.

When should you be concerned?

  • If the child has major developmental delays.
  • If the in-toeing seems to be one-sided.
  • If your child is experiencing pain in her feet.
  • If the deformity is severe and persists.

Toe walking

Toe walking is when a child walks on her toes without putting any pressure on her heel or any other part of her foot. This walking style is a very common occurrence in children younger than two years old, but should disappear on its own by the age of three years old.

When should you be concerned?

  • If your child has delayed milestones.
  • If the problem is one-sided (only occurs in one foot).
  • If the toe walking persists beyond three years.

Flat feet

This term refers to the medical condition where the arch of the foot collapses, and the entire sole of the foot almost, or completely, touches the ground.

Flat feet are very common in toddlers, especially if they’re overweight. Flat feet usually disappears at around six or seven years old. Occasionally it may persist into adult life – which can then mean that the child inherited the problem from her family.

When should you be concerned? 

  • If the child only has a flat foot on one side, and if the foot feels stiff.

If you notice that your child’s walking style isn’t normal for her age and are concerned about it, consult an orthopaedic surgeon to make sure that all is well with your little one.


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