8 February, 2022
As a parent or carer, any potential causes of discomfort in your child can be distressing to witness.
Limps in a toddler or preschooler may be present from the time they start to walk. Other times they present over time or suddenly after months or years of walking perfectly straight.
Some causes of limping can be painful. Sometimes it can require urgent medical attention. Sometimes it’s something that will pass with a bit of rest.
Causes of Toddler Limps
- Injury or pain in the spine, leg or foot
- Poor posture or tightness
- Muscle weakness
- Retained birth reflexes
- Dislocation or misshaped hip (also called hip dysplasia)
- Blood supply issues
- Something a bit scarier
When to be concerned with a limp
If your child has other symptoms with the limp, then it’s important to get them checked urgently by the GP, paediatrician or local children’s hospital.
- Complete inability to walk or put weight on leg
- Fever, night sweats, chills
- Changes to bowel or bladder function like suddenly wetting their pants after being toilet trained
- Pain at night or while resting
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
What to do when you spot a limp in your toddler or preschooler?
First and foremost an assessment needs to be performed. This will involve watching your child walk and how the leg moves. The low back, hip, knee, ankle and foot will be observed and tested. Your doctor will feel the leg and back joints for signs of infection and inflammation. Blood tests and an x-ray or ultrasound may be organised. Not every child will require these extra tests.
It’s important that your doctor performs these thorough tests to make sure there’s nothing serious happening. Most of the time, it’s not serious and get better with rest.
Once you know what’s going on, you’ll be given advice to follow such as resting, releasing the muscle spasm & joint tension or taking medication.
From a chiropractors’ and osteopaths’ perspective, we also look at how a limp affects the rest of the body and potentially causes tension and compensation patterns in other areas of the body. Walking with a limp can cause the shoulders to become lob-sided, the head to tilt and posture to slouch.
If the limp or uneven posture is caused by muscle tightness, then why is it tight? Is there muscle weakness causing that joint to work harder? Is there a reflexive movement causing a tilt? Is the ankle inflexible so that the hip has to compensate? Is there a curve of the spine placing uneven pressure through the legs? These are all questions that paediatric chiropractors and osteopaths will look at.
Treatment for Limps in Toddlers
Braces & Casts
For fractures, dislocations or developmental hip dysplasia, braces, casts or even surgery may be required depending on the severity and age of the child.
If there's an infection, antibiotics may be required. If antibiotics are used, we always recommend using a probiotic to rebuilt and balance the gut bacteria levels. This should be done in consultation to your health practitioner such as a paediatric naturopath, integrative GP or kids dietitian.
For some kids, rest is all that's required. Give the joints a little break to heal and recover.
Easier said than done in active toddlers and preschoolers!
Correcting Causes of Limp
There can be many factors that put more pressure on the leg & back.
Tension in the hips, back or legs should be corrected to make it easier to move around - and have fun playing! Your paediatric chiropractor will also look for other areas of tension in the body too. An assessment for scoliosis (curved spine), muscle weakness, birth reflexes, joint stiffness and more will be performed to find the cause. Gentle treatments and home exercises are usually given.
Being overweight can damage the hip joints. The hip joint itself needs to be addressed as well as finding a healthy weight to prevent further deterioration or damage to the other hip.
Sometimes it might not be so obvious like vitamin D or C deficiency.
- Limping toddlers can be a sign of tension in the body, infection or damaged joints
- A proper assessment is required before making a diagnosis
- Rest, gentle treatments and home exercises may be all that's required
About the Author
Dr Cassie Atkinson-Quinton - Paediatric-Trained Chiropractor & Paediatric Sleep Coach
Dr Cassie is a paediatric-trained chiropractor, sleep coach and, most importantly, mumma to Master H. She loves seeing newborns grow into inquisitive toddlers and busy school kids. She assesses for neurological development (primitive reflexes), posture, sleep health and movement patterns. She's an eager learning just like the kids she sees.
"It's better to grow healthy children than fix injured adults."