Noticing a child is pigeon-toed may worry parents, but toes that point inward are rarely a problem. In fact, intoeing often corrects itself by the time a child turns 7 or 8, and it rarely causes pain or problems walking.
Intoeing usually happens because of how a baby is positioned in the womb. The child’s hips, lower legs, feet, or a combination of those areas may be turned in.
“Parents often notice intoeing when children start walking,” said Nicole Quarne, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist.
Occasionally an injury in childhood or adulthood can cause intoeing on one side where the person is compensating for weakness or pain.
Treatment usually isn’t needed
Doctors often don’t treat intoeing in children unless it’s causing problems like pain or falling.
In the old days, doctors used to have children wear shoes on the wrong feet or wear leg braces,” said Heather Vogel, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist. “Now we know treatment isn’t needed for mild intoeing.”
Most kids outgrow intoeing when they develop adult walking patterns at 7 or 8 years old. Some people revert to intoeing when they’re tired, and others remain pigeon-toed in adulthood, but it’s usually not a problem.
Kids and adults whose toes turn in can participate in sports and perform normally.
“Some of the fastest athletes in the world are pigeon-toed,” Vogel said.
Physical therapy can help
It’s not common, but some children trip a lot or have pain in their ankles, knees and hips because of intoeing. An orthopedic specialist or pediatric physical medicine specialist will evaluate the child to figure out which joints are turned in.
Doctors may start treatment when children are 2 or 3 years old if intoeing is causing severe problems.
“A physical therapist can work on the muscles so they do their part to stabilize joints,” Quarne said.
Exercises and stretching in the form of play to increase balance, strength and mobility can improve walking patterns. Orthotics, braces or surgery may be needed to correct severe intoeing.