Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Rickets: What It Is and How It’s Treated


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Aug 15;74(4):629-630.

  See related article on rickets.

What is rickets?

Rickets is a bone problem that affects children. It happens when your child’s bones do not form correctly. Rickets can make your child’s bones hurt, and the bones can bend and break easily.

What causes rickets?

Children can inherit rickets from a parent. Sometimes it relates to what your child eats. This is called nutritional rickets. It can happen when your child doesn’t get enough vitamin D and calcium to make strong bones. The body also needs sunlight to make vitamin D. If your child has dark skin and does not spend much time in the sun, he or she may get rickets.

If your child was born early or has certain illnesses, such as kidney or intestinal disease, he or she has a higher risk of getting rickets.

What are the symptoms of rickets?

Young babies with rickets can be fussy and have soft skulls. Infants and toddlers may not develop, walk, or grow well. Older children may have bone pain and bowed legs, or their wrists and knees may get wider. The picture on the next page shows some symptoms of rickets.

How can I tell if my child has rickets?

Your doctor will ask about your family health history and your child’s health and diet. Your child will need a full physical exam. Blood tests and x-rays of the arms or legs can help your doctor tell if your child has rickets.

How is rickets treated?

Treatment depends on the type of rickets your child has. Your doctor will find out why your child has rickets and treat the cause. Nutritional rickets is treated with vitamin D and calcium. If your child has inherited rickets or has an illness causing the problem, a doctor who specializes in rickets may need to help.

How can I keep my child from getting nutritional rickets?

Be sure your child gets enough vitamin D and calcium. Your doctor will tell you if your child needs extra vitamin D or calcium. If you have a young baby whose only food is breast milk, your doctor may prescribe medicine with vitamin D. If your baby gets just over 16 ounces of formula per day, he or she will need extra vitamin D.

Your doctor can also tell you if your older child needs more vitamin D or calcium. Your doctor will tell you about how much time in the sun is safe for your child. To make sure your child is getting enough vitamin D, you should feed your older child foods that are high in calcium, such as milk, cheese, and salad greens.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Web site:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Web site:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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