What to Know About Pigeon Feet

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on February 20, 2024
4 min read

“‌Pigeon feet” is the name for a common condition in which a child walks with one or both feet pointed inward instead of straight ahead. It doesn’t cause any pain or other problems, and it usually gets better on its own. 

‌As babies learn to stand, their legs naturally tend to turn inward. When they’re learning to walk, a toddler’s feet often point in odd directions until they get the hang of it. ‌

“Pigeon feet” or “walking pigeon-toed” is just a way of saying that a child’s foot or feet turn in when they walk. Doctors call it in-toeing. You may also notice in-toeing when your child is running or even when they’re standing still. 

For most children, in-toeing is not a problem. It doesn’t cause pain. Children with pigeon feet can still jump, run, and play sports.

In some cases, a child with pigeon toes will trip more often. This is because a foot that is turned inward catches on the heel of the other foot while walking.

It tends to run in families. If you or one of your relatives walked pigeon-toed, it's more likely that your child will have some in-toeing as well. You can't do anything to prevent pigeon feet, but most children outgrow it without treatment.

In-toeing doesn’t mean that there's anything wrong with your child’s feet. In fact, it's almost always caused by a leg bone that's rotated. There are three conditions that cause pigeon feet, and each is named for the leg bone that's turned.

Metatarsus adductus. The metatarsus is a group of five small bones in the middle of your foot. Some babies are born with these bones turned toward the other foot. This gives the foot a curved shape that you may notice when they’re a newborn.‌

Tibial torsion. The tibia, often called the shinbone, is one of the lower leg bones. As a baby is growing in its mother’s womb and starts running out of room, one or both of its shin bones may twist inward to help the baby fit into the tight space. Usually, the child’s legs will straighten over time.

With tibial torsion, the leg has not yet straightened when the child begins to walk. The twist in the shin bone pulls the foot in toward the center of the body and can cause some children to trip. 

Tibial torsion is not as easy to see as metatarsus adductus, so many parents don’t notice anything until their child starts walking.

Femoral anteversion. The femur is the upper leg bone, also known as the thigh bone. In femoral anteversion, the upper end of the femur is twisted inward, causing the knee and foot to point inward when your child walks. It's most noticeable around age 5 or 6. Children with femoral anteversion often like to sit in a W position, with their knees out in front, pointing forward, and their feet next to their hips, pointing out to the sides.

‌Most children outgrow it by the age of 8 without any treatment. In the past, doctors tried braces, shoe inserts, and other treatments to help straighten pigeon feet. None of these treatments worked.

Avoid any device that claims to help with pigeon feet unless it's prescribed by your child’s doctor. Special shoes and braces can keep a child from walking and playing normally, and they won’t fix the problem. In most cases, the child’s legs will straighten on their own over time.

In the unlikely event that your little one needs treatment, the options depend on which condition is causing the in-toeing.

For metatarsus adductus. The foot usually straightens on its own within the first 6 months. When a baby is around 6 to 9 months old, their doctor may consider special shoes or a series of casts if there is still a severe curve in the foot or if the foot is particularly rigid. In the rare cases when these treatments are needed, they usually work very well.‌

For tibial torsion. In most children, the tibia naturally straightens by age 4. No braces or other treatments are needed. If by the time your child is 9 or 10 there's still enough twist in the shinbone to cause trouble walking, your child's doctor may recommend surgery.‌

For femoral anteversion. The twist in the femur almost always corrects itself without treatment. Your child's doctor will only consider surgery if the leg still has a significant enough turn at age 9 or 10 that walking is hard.

‌As the bones straighten gradually over time, it can be tough to tell whether your child is getting better. Once a year, take video clips of your child walking. You can compare the videos and see if there is improvement.

Check with your child’s doctor if you’re concerned about the way your child is walking, especially if:‌

  • Your child seems to be in pain when they walk.
  • In-toeing doesn’t get better by age 3.
  • In-toeing gets worse instead of better.
  • Your child also has developmental delays, like not learning to speak at a typical age.