My 2 YO Walks Like a Cowboy

Dear Mamas,

My 2 yo son has been walking since 10 months and running since 10 months and 1 day. It seems like he does all things physical earlier than expected. He’s also noticeably bow-legged, and walks with a cowboy swagger. I feel like I’m watching a bad western from the 1960s and fear that any day now he’ll greet me with “Howdy, pardner”!

Our pediatrician (who we adore and trust) says this is part of normal toddler development, but my friends are starting to notice and question it. A mom on my block recently told me that her older brother wore leg braces for a similar problem when he was a child.

Am I ignoring something serious? Will it affect his growth in the future? Should I overrule the pediatrician and take him to a specialist?

I don’t think riding the rodeo is such a great career path.


Dear Rodeo Mama,

This is a question we get all the time, from cowboys and cowgirls alike. Never fear, bowing (the technical term is genu varum, literally angle-kneed) is a normal part of child development. In fact, infants are most often born with bowed legs — you just can’t tell because they’re not upright and walking around.

Physiologic bowing (which means the kind that’s part of normal development and not caused by disease) usually begins to straighten out at about 2 years, but there’s lots of room for individual variation here. Often, the knees then start to go in the other direction and 3 or 4 year-olds can look knock-kneed. After that the legs correct to form typical adult alignment by around 6 to 7 years. There’s a wide range of normal and physiologic bowing doesn’t require any treatment other than observation.

Another benign condition called internal tibial torsion (inward twist of the tibial bone in the lower leg, caused by positioning in the womb) can make bowing look more pronounced than it is because the knee caps appear to be pointing outward, exaggerating that cowboy look. Fortunately, tibial torsion also tends to correct itself at about the same time as physiologic bowing.

There are some disease processes that cause pathologic, or abnormal, bowing of the legs. The most common of these are rickets, caused by a deficiency or abnormal metabolism of the vitamins and minerals needed to make healthy bone, and Blount’s disease, which affects the relative rate of growth of the upper shin bone, causing the outer portion to grow faster than the inner, creating a bowed appearance.

Both of these lead to abnormal appearing bones, not just that cowboy look, and they are unlikely causes for your guy, especially if your pediatrician is aware of your concern and is following his growth.

Bottom line — it’s overwhelmingly likely that by the time your little guy starts school he’ll be well on his way to looking more like a surfer than a cowboy. Is that a good thing?

One more important point raised by your question is how sensitive we moms are to the comments and evaluations of other mothers. Back in the day, lots of kids with physiologic bowing were put in corrective leg braces. If we’d known then what we know now (that treatment wasn’t necessary and it would correct naturally), they’d have been spared months of discomfort and reduced mobility.

But your neighbor has no way of knowing that, and her childhood experience dialed up your worry and made you question your well-loved family doctor. The other moms who comment on your kiddo’s gait are coming from a place of comparison with their children — which has nothing to do with yours.

It just goes to show how fragile our mommy confidence can be in the face of all the vast possibilities of normal and healthy. So stand up tall, ask the questions that need to be asked, and try not to compare Josh to Jon because they’re not the same children. Thank goodness for that!

We love getting all of your questions and want to give you everything that our combined brains have to offer. So keep sending them in! 

Email This Post Email This Post

Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

Warning: Illegal string offset 'echo' in /home/mamasonc/public_html/mama/wp-content/themes/hybrid/library/extensions/custom-field-series.php on line 157

One response to “My 2 YO Walks Like a Cowboy”

  1. Are Bowlegs Bad?

    […] very common question, so we’re glad you asked. We’ve talked about this in a past post (My 2-YO Walks like a Cowboy), and common questions need to be repeated […]

Leave a Reply




With One or Both of Us

Go to & for the scoop!

Phone • Internet • Your Home or Group

Listen up

The Five Second Rule: True Or False?

If you pick it up within five seconds, you can eat it, right?

Watch This!

Teach your kids to step in and step up when they see a classmate being teased. Show them how to respond and tell them what to say. Let's try to make our world a little kinder and a little warmer. Please?

What You Said

  • FirstBarry: I have noticed you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn...
  • Rebecca Benham: My son woke up with bumps on his stomach help
  • Chelie Belie: AND up the street there’s a psychotic IT that is awe-struck by me! Walks by my property carrying...
  • Chelie Belie: I live next door to Ned Flanders–how would you like that??
  • Maggie sullivan: I have a neighbor, will holler and wave at me if i am near porch but if i try to sit in the yard, or...
  • Ellen Schrier: Thank you so much! Please come back often!
  • Ellen Schrier: Hi Lisa, Sorry for the very late response. We are sorry to hear about your daughter and are sure that...
  • Lisa jacobs: My daughter was in a car accident and now has a concussion. She is plan to go to Mexico City which is a...
  • RF: Well my baby had her first two bottom theeth at 10 months old and i tought so far so good and then now at 11...
  • ofertas cine: That is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise info… Thanks...

Just so you know

The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.