I frequently get questions from parents about the way their children walk – or their gait. From walking on their toes to walking slowly, parents worry about whether their child is developing correctly. This includes intoeing, which is commonly referred to as being pigeon toed. I’d like to share some information on this condition to help you separate fact from the myths I’ve seen on the internet.
A Fairly Common Condition
Intoeing is the term used to describe a condition when someone walks with their toes turned inward rather than pointed in the direction they’re walking. It is a fairly common condition among young children and typically resolves itself in most cases by age 8. I’ve heard several myths about intoeing and would like to clear up three of the major ones:
- First, despite the myth, there has been no link to intoeing and arthritis later in life.
- Secondly, it does not usually cause pain.
- Lastly, intoeing usually doesn’t interfere with learning to walk or run.
Uncorrected, intoeing can lead to a gait that puts strain on other parts of the leg, problems with running and jumping, and foot deformaties such as hammertoes and bunions.
If you’re wondering if your child is intoeing, look for crescent-moon shaped feet (this is going to be primarily in infants), thigh or shin bones that appear to turn inward, unusual clumsiness or tripping or feet that turn inward when they walk.
Pigeon Toe Treatment Options
The three most common causes of intoeing in children are:
- Metatarsus adductus, which is a birth defect that causes the front half of the foot to turn inward, occurs in infants and usually corrects itself as the infant grows.
- Internal tibial torsion, or twisted shin, which usually occurs between the ages of 1-3.
- Femoral anteversion, or twisted femur/thigh bone, which usually happens between the ages of 3-10.
In the past, when intoeing didn’t correct itself, special shoes, braces and exercises were recommended by doctors. With the exception of metatarsus adductus in infants, studies have found these don’t help. If tibial torsion and femoral anterversion don’t spontaneously correct as the child grows older, surgery may be recommended.
Dr. Jennifer Lai is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. She’s accepting appointments for kids of all ages. Her clinical interests include general Pediatrics, newborns, autism and obesity.