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Understanding the Waddling Gait in Children: Parent’s Guide

Explore the hidden causes behind toddlers' unusual walking patterns and how parents can help their little ones step with confidence.

a man in a white shirt and blue and pink suspenders
By Babafemi Adebajo
a person holding a glass with a light on it
Edited by Lucia Gcingca

Updated February 13, 2024.

Waddling gait in children: a toddler in a diaper walking next to a bed.

A toddler’s first unsteady steps are a crucial milestone no parent wants to miss. But for some families, their child’s walking pattern causes concern. A waddling gait affects thousands of children; the proper treatment can correct it if caught early.

So, let's explore the common causes of an abnormal waddling gait in children, signs to watch for, and where to turn to provide orthopaedic support for your little one's development during this critical stage.

What is a Waddling Gait?

A waddling or abnormal gait in children is an unusual walking pattern characterised by an excessive widening of the base of support, with the feet turned outward—everted—and the knees and swaying hips.

Causes of a Waddling Gait

Hip Disorders

  • Developmental hip dysplasia (DDH): This condition refers to the abnormal development of the hip joint, causing the ball-shaped head of the femur to wholly or partially dislocate from the socket.
  • Perthes disease: Involves a temporary disruption of blood flow to the head of the femur, causing it to collapse and flatten.
  • Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE): Separates the cartilage cap—epiphysis—from the main bone, or femur, at the top of the hip joint.

Neuromuscular Disorders

  • Cerebral palsy: This neurological disorder affects coordination and balance.
  • Muscular dystrophy: This group of genetic disorders progressively weakens skeletal muscles. Children may develop a waddling gait as weakness progresses, affecting the muscles of the hips, thighs, and lower legs.
  • Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA): A genetic disorder that causes progressive degeneration of motor neurons in the spinal cord.


This vitamin D or calcium deficiency can lead to weakened and deformed bones. It can cause irregular gait due to pain, weakness, and altered bone growth in the hip joint.

» Learn what to consider when choosing shoes for kids with CP

Symptoms of a Waddling Gait

You can usually detect a waddling gait in your kid as early as 18 months old. The typical symptoms or signs are:

  • The child stands with their feet farther apart than usual, often with their toes pointing outward.
  • Outward rotation of the feet results in a pigeon-toed appearance from a frontal view.
  • Swaying of the hips and knees, creating an undulating gait pattern.
  • Difficulty lifting the legs high enough to clear the ground, resulting in a shuffling or dragging gait.
  • Tendency to fall, particularly when running or changing directions abruptly.

Seek immediate medical attention if other symptoms—such as weakness, fatigue, or difficulty with fine motor skills—accompany your child's waddling gait.

A baby standing on a hard wood floor doing exercises for a waddling gait.

» Check out the best shoes for pigeon-toed toddlers 

Treatments for Children With a Waddling Gait

Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for managing the underlying cause of the waddling gait and ensuring the child's overall foot development and mobility. In this delicate stage, the choice of footwear also strongly contributes to your child's well-being.

You can opt for high-quality orthopaedic shoes, like those from First Walkers. They are durable, lightweight, and have non-slip soles with arch support to help align their little feet, ankles, and legs.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy trains your kid's gait. Doctors can develop individualised exercise programs to strengthen and stretch the muscles involved in walking, and improve balance and coordination.


In some cases, podiatrists might prescribe medications to address the underlying cause of the waddling gait. For example, to reduce pain, improve muscle tone, or manage spasticity in children with neuromuscular disorders.


Surgery addresses children with structural abnormalities in the hips, knees, or ankles causing the waddling gait. It corrects deformities, stabilises joints, and repairs damaged tissues.

Lifestyle Modifications

In addition to these specific treatment approaches, lifestyle modifications may help improve mobility and overall well-being. These may include:

  • Regular physical activity to help strengthen muscles, improve coordination, and maintain overall fitness. It can also help to reduce pain and improve flexibility.
  • Teaching your child to look where they are going and to use handrails to help reduce the risk of injury.
  • A healthy diet that provides the nutrients the body needs to repair muscle.
  • 10–12 hours of sleep for overall health and development.
  • Regular check-ups with healthcare providers to monitor the child's progress and adjust the treatment plan.
Waddling gait in children:  a group of kids playing.

Managing a Waddling Gait: Assistive Devices or Orthotics?

Assistive Devices

  • AFOs (Ankle Foot Orthoses): Custom-made braces that fit over the child's feet and extend up the lower leg. They can correct foot deformities, improve ankle stability, and reduce the rotation of the feet.
  • Braces: Supports the hips, knees, or ankles, providing additional stability and reducing the strain on these joints.
  • Walkers and crutches: Provide additional support and stability while walking, especially for children with weak or impaired legs.
  • Gait trainers: Wheeled devices that support the child's trunk and pelvis, allowing them to practice walking independently.

Orthotics for Waddling Gait

  • Foot orthotics: Custom-made inserts that fit inside the child's shoes. They can help to align the feet and improve the child's balance and stability.
  • Hip orthotics: Braces that go over the child's hips, helping to reduce pain, improve stability, and correct deformities in the hips.
  • Knee orthotics: Fit over the child's knees and help improve joint alignment, pain, and stability.

» Give your kid support with the best kids' shoes for orthotics

Parental Guidance and Support

1. Understand the Underlying Cause

Collaborate with the child's healthcare providers to understand the underlying cause of the waddling gait. This will help parents better understand the condition, treatment options, and potential long-term implications.

2. Create a Supportive Home Environment

Adapt the home environment to make it safer and easier for the child to move around. Remove clutter, secure furniture, and use appropriate flooring materials for better traction.

4. Provide Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is essential for motivating the child and building their confidence. Acknowledge their progress, celebrate their achievements, and provide encouragement throughout their treatment journey.

Waddling gait in chidlren: couple of kids running through a field.

5. Educate Family and Friends

Educate family members and close friends about the child's condition to ensure understanding and support. This can help reduce stigma and create a supportive network around the child.

6. Join Support Groups

Encourage the child to join support groups or online communities to connect with other children experiencing similar challenges. Sharing experiences and knowledge can be mutually beneficial.

7. Maintain Open Communication

Open and honest communication with the child fosters trust and understanding. Address their concerns, questions, and feelings openly.

Explore complementary therapies such as massage, acupuncture, or aquatic therapy, which may provide additional support and relaxation. But consult with healthcare providers first.

All in Good Stride: Correcting Waddling Gait

As children with a waddling gait undergo treatment and therapy, supportive footwear and clothing are imperative for their development.

Opt for shoes that provide arch support, cushioning, and non-slip soles to aid stability and alignment with each step. First Walkers offers durable orthopaedic shoes designed specifically for growing feet.

Also, you can choose loose, comfortable clothing that allows complete freedom of movement without placing pressure on the hips, knees, or ankles. Children with a waddling gait can build confidence with the proper footwear and clothing.


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