What are bowlegs?

Bowlegs is a condition in which a person’s legs appear bowed out, meaning their knees stay wide apart even when their ankles are together. Bowlegs is also known as congenital genu varum.

Bowlegs can sometimes be a sign of an underlying disease, such as Blount’s disease or rickets, and may lead to arthritis in the knees and hips. Treatment options include braces, casts, or surgery to correct these bone abnormalities.

This condition is fairly common in infants because of their cramped position in the womb. Typically, no treatment is necessary for infants. A child’s legs will begin to straighten when they start to walk, usually between 12 and 18 months of age. In most cases, there are no lasting side effects. You should contact a doctor if your child has bowlegs beyond the age of 2.

Read on to find out more about the causes of bowlegs.

Blount’s disease

In Blount’s disease, which is also called tibia vara, a child’s shin develops abnormally, curving below the knees. As your child starts to walk, the bowing of the legs becomes worse.

This condition may be apparent early on, but in some cases symptoms may not be noticeable until the child reaches adolescence. Over time, bowlegs can lead to joint problems in their knees.

Blount’s disease is more common in females, African Americans, and children with obesity. Children who begin walking early are at a greater risk. A child should normally start walking on their own between 11 and 14 months of age.


Rickets is a condition resulting from prolonged vitamin D deficiency. This softens and weakens the bones, causing the legs to bow.

Paget’s disease

This metabolic disease negatively affects the way your bones break down and rebuild. As a result, they don’t rebuild as strongly as they should. Over time, this can lead to bowlegs and other joint problems.

Paget’s disease is more common in older people and can be successfully managed with early diagnosis and treatment.


The most common form of dwarfism is caused by a condition known as achondroplasia. This is a bone growth disorder that can result in bowlegs over time.

Other causes

Bowlegs can also be a result of:

This is a very recognizable condition. Your knees won’t touch when you stand with your feet and ankles together. Bowlegs look symmetrical.

In children, most bowleg cases start to improve when a child is 12 to 18 months old. You should talk to your child’s doctor if your child’s legs are still bowed beyond the age of 2, or if the condition becomes worse.

Bowlegs are easy to spot, but your doctor can tell you how severe the condition is or whether it’s caused by an underlying disease.

During your visit, your doctor will likely take your leg measurements and observe your walk.

They may order an X-ray or other imaging tests to view any bone abnormalities in your legs and knees. They may also order blood tests to help determine whether your bowlegs are caused by another condition, such as rickets or Paget’s disease.

Treatment usually isn’t recommended for infants and toddlers unless an underlying condition has been identified. Treatment may be recommended if your case of bowlegs is extreme or getting worse, or if an accompanying condition is diagnosed. Treatment options include:

  • special shoes
  • braces
  • casts
  • surgery to correct bone abnormalities
  • treatment of diseases or conditions that cause bowlegs

There is no known prevention for bowlegs. In some cases, you may be able to prevent certain conditions that cause bowlegs.

For example, you can prevent rickets by making sure your child receives sufficient vitamin D, through both diet and exposure to sunshine. Learn how to safely get vitamin D from sunlight.

Be sure to talk to your child’s doctor if your child still has bowlegs after the age of 2.

Early diagnosis and detection of bowlegs will help you and your child manage this condition.

Arthritis is the primary long-term effect of bowlegs, and it can be disabling. When it’s severe, it can affect the knees, feet, ankles, and hip joints because of the abnormal stresses applied.

If a person needs a total knee replacement at a young age, then a revision will likely have to be done when they are older. Doing a total knee arthroplasty in such people may be difficult because of the surgeries they have already undergone and because of the abnormal alignment of the bones.