Kids be trippin’ (and stumbling)

Worried that your toddler is limping, has a neurologic problem, or worse, is just clumsy? 

Toddlers walk with an awkward, unsteady gait because the angle between their thigh and foot has not yet established their normal set point. Kids need to spend a few years growing while bearing weight on their legs for the legs to straighten out correctly. Towards the end of pregnancy when their living situation gets a bit crowded, babies’ thighs rotate outward and their shins and feet rotate inward so they can sit compactly in a cross-legged yoga position. Babies sit in lotus position for weeks while they patiently wait to be born. In fact, premature babies can’t be pigeon-toed or bow-legged because they don’t sit like that long enough in the womb.


fetal leg positioning

As soon as our little yogis start walking, any excess rotation of the legs that remains from intrauterine life becomes very obvious. And when they start to run, it becomes quite comical. As kids practice walking and running, they will move just a little bit differently each day and you will see they will be more clumsy on some days than others. They may continue to trip frequently and look pigeon-toed until around age five.

Kids trip more when they are tired

There are several different mechanical causes of a toddler’s unique leg structure that can cause them to trip, stumble and look bow-legged or pigeon-toed. In one, the thigh bone (femur) rotates inward. These kids may sit on the floor in a W-position with their feet outside their hips. When these kids run their thigh turns inward when their lower leg swings forward making them look like a running egg-beater.

Other kids will have inward turning of their lower leg that will make them look particularly bow-legged when they walk and quite clumsy. Their feet can easily cross and they will trip themselves often. 

Bowlegs make better runners

The good news is that a research study found that among high school runners, naturally pigeon-toed athletes had better sprinting ability.

Special shoes, braces or orthotics are not needed because they are expensive, can interfere with sleep and play, and most importantly, are completely ineffective. (Sorry about that, Forrest)

Kids’ weird gaits are so universally normal that they are named for this attribute. To ‘toddle’ means ‘to run or walk with short, unsteady steps.’ So next time you’re worried that your child is injured or drunk, remember she was born to toddle. Parenting Team Contributor

Author: Wendy Hunter, MD

Pediatrician at Children's Primary Care Medical Group, La Jolla, CA

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Don't miss a new post!

Don't miss a new post!

Stay up-to-date on the latest trends in parenting! Receive weekly posts by email.

Thank you for subscribing!