A pigeon toe gait goes by many different medical names including intoeing, metatarsus adductus, metatarsus varus, and false club foot. These are all just fancy terms to describe a person who has toes that point toward the inside of the foot when they walk. Many infants are pigeon toed as are some toddlers. They tend to be born with the condition and it gradually goes away as they get older.
Most people with pigeon toe gait do not have to wear special shoes and can get around normally. It is only when they walk that people notice that their toes are pointing inward when they are walking. There are some structural problems of the leg and foot that can cause pigeon toe gait. Sometimes the problem is nothing more than weakness of the muscles that support the foot and ankle, resulting in the typical intoeing of the foot. In severe cases, intoeing can be similar to having a club foot and it tends not to go away on its own.
Causes of a Pigeon Toe Gait
Most causes of a pigeon toe gait happen because some part of their leg or foot is out of alignment. Some of these include the following:
- Metatarsus adductus. This is when the foot itself is curved so that the toes are bent inward. This is the most common reason why a person is pigeon toed. Sometimes special shoes are required when the child is a toddler in order to straighten out the foot so the toes point straight.
- Tibial torsion. This is when the shin bone itself (the tibia) is twisted so that the whole foot is tipped to the inside of the leg. The foot may be completely straight but the lower leg itself is not in proper alignment. This can be slight or very severe.
- Femoral Anteversion. This is when the femur or thighbone is twisted so that the entire leg is tilted inward and the knees and feet together are tilted toward the inside of the body. The foot itself may be completely straight but is pointing inward. It can affect just one leg or both legs in varying degrees.
Diagnosis of a Pigeon Toe Gait
The diagnosis is usually made on physical examination. The doctor will watch the child walk and will take measurements of the foot to see if the problem is from a curved foot, a twisted tibia, or a twisted femur. X-rays can be taken but these are rarely any more helpful than doing a careful physical examination of the affected legs.
Treatment of a Pigeon Toe Gait
Fortunately, most cases of a pigeon toe gait will correct themselves as the child ages. If the problem is very severe, surgery to correct the problem may be necessary. One type of surgery involves taking the Achilles tendon and lengthening it to straighten out the foot. If the problem isn’t that severe, parents can help resolve the problem by preventing the child from keeping their legs crossed or by wearing special shoes that force the toes in the opposite direction to where they are trending.
Sometimes the foot or the entire leg is casted. This needs to be done prior to the age of one year so that the bones can begin to grow in the right direction and the child can walk normally. Fortunately, most cases of pigeon toe gait are minor so that no treatment is necessary. Physical therapy can also be done on mild cases. Some say that learning ballet will correct a problem of mild intoeing because it causes the legs to bend in an outward position.