What Is Blount Disease?
Blount disease is a growth disorder that affects the bones of the lower leg, causing them to bow outward. It can affect people at any time during the growing process, but it's more common in kids under 4 and in teens. In younger kids both legs are often affected, but in teens it's usually just one.
To understand Blount disease, it helps to know about the tibia and the fibula — the two parallel bones that make up the lower leg. The fibula is the thinner bone located on the same side of the leg as your pinky toes. The larger bone, the tibia (or shin bone), is located on the same side as your big toes. When we stand, the tibia is the bone that bears most of our weight.
In kids and teens who are still growing, there is also a growth plate at the top of the tibia. This is called the physis and it's made out of cartilage, which is weaker than bone. The job of the physis is to allow the bone to lengthen and grow.
Sometimes, though, the physis has to bear more pressure than it can comfortably handle. This can start a series of events at the top of the tibia: The inner part, just below the knee, gets compressed. It may even stop making new bone. But the outer part continues to grow normally.
This uneven bone growth — coupled with increased pressure from above — causes the tibia to bow outward instead of grow straight. (Need a visual? Take a coffee stirrer and hold it upright — now push down gently from the top and imagine that's your tibia.)
Blount disease is very different from the type of bowlegs that are so common in babies and toddlers. Babies' legs are naturally bowed. But the bowing almost always straightens out on its own once a child starts walking between the ages of 1 and 2. Blount disease, on the other hand — whether it starts in early childhood or the teen years — will not correct itself over time and will only get worse if left untreated. That's why it's important to catch it early.
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