Your child is dressed up, looking cute and its photo time. You take the priceless shot and look down at your kids’ legs…. Their knees are pointing towards each other!! What is going on?
There are two common reasons why this could be happening but before we go any further the first thing you need to know it is quite normal. Phew! Put the wine down, now. Secondly, please don’t point out to your child that their knees are weird or different. Most of the time kids don’t have any pain so they won’t even notice anything. This is something you need to monitor but kids don’t want to feel odd or weird in anyway so let’s not make it a big deal.
Knock knees is quite common (20% of 3 year old toddlers) and is diagnosed when a child stand with knees together but there is a significant gap between ankles. The gap is deemed significant from 5 centimetres. In most cases, as children grow taller this gap becomes smaller. “A classic pattern in Caucasian children is bow legs at birth, straightening out at 2 years, knock knees at four years and straightening out between six to 11 years” writes Professor Joshua Burns.
A second possible reason for your child’s knees pointing towards each other is muscle strength imbalance. Let me explain.
The way to make a muscle stronger in a particular movement is to repeatedly do that movement. For example if you would like stronger biceps (front of your arm) you would do more bicep curls. Now sometimes, due to life patterns and habits, kids (and adults) train muscles without even knowing it. When sitting, the muscles inside of the leg engage. Then if the knees are touching and the feet are positioned wider of the knees those muscles on the inside of the leg get used even more. A classic position is the “W” sit (sitting cross legged encourages more core strength) for children. This position again strengthens the inside of the leg and in turn causes tight hip muscles.
So, we have a child with strong inner legs and tight hips. What are some exercises to help create muscular balance and have more flexible hips?
Firstly, lift off.
In bare feet, simply get your child to lift one of their feet off the ground. Not too high. Instruct your little one to squeeze their tummy (I use “Angry Abs”) and backside on the side that has the foot on the ground. Try to get to 60 total seconds, on both legs, in small sets. Perhaps 4 lots of 15 seconds. This exercise will strengthen the outside of the hip and help to rotate the hip back to a “normal” position.
Secondly, Train track jump.
Set up jumping and landing markers and small achievable distance a part. Two targets on each so your little one knows exactly where they need to land. Instruct your child to jump from one side to the other without letting their knees touch. Aim for 10 good jumps and lands where the knees don’t touch. Give big praise when they get it as it will be challenging. This jumping activity will teach your little one to push their knees away from each other which stretches the inside of the leg and the land will strengthen the outside of the hip. This will help counter balance the overly strong inside of the leg.
Thirdly, butterfly or frog stretch.
With your child lying on their back (you may want to give them a book to read or look at for distraction) pop the bottom of their feet together. The knees should go sideways towards the floor. Ensure your child is lying straight and not squirming to the side. It is quite easy to over stretch this area so go easy. Slightly guide the knees toward the floor and try to “feel” for the tension. Imagine that their muscle is a guitar string. If you tighten (stretch too far) you can tear the muscle so never force it. If you do get 3 lots of 10 seconds that will be fine. The key to these exercises is to do them frequently. Just before bed is a nice way to finish the day.
Although your child’s knees may simply look a little different it is likely that it will only be a matter of time before the issue is solved. You would be surprised the amount of kids and adults have the muscle imbalances due to our sitting lifestyles. Movement is always the best medicine. All we have to do is do it.