Exercise Tips for Bow-Legged People

Bow legs is a condition in which your legs curve outward at the knees and your feet and ankles touch. If you are bowlegged, there is a gap between your lower legs and knees when your feet are together. The medical term for bow legs is genu varum. If you have bow legs, you may be at higher risk for injuries during high-impact exercise such as running or aerobics. However, you can take measures to not only ensure that exercising is comfortable for you, but that help improve your condition as well.

One of the best ways to ensure that you are exercising properly if you have bow legs is to visit a medical professional. A physical therapist (PT) who specializes in orthopedic conditions is a good place to start. Your PT can assess your legs and tailor an exercise program that is safe and effective for you. Of course, if you have knee pain or have had a lower extremity injury, checking in with your physician or PT is a good idea before starting any exercise program.

The Effect of Bow Legs on Your Knee Joints

Not every person on Earth is the same. Some folks have bow legs, others are knock-kneed, and some people have straight legs from their hips down to their feet. If you have bow legs, there may be an increased stress and strain on various anatomical structures in your knees.

Bow legs create a gap on the outer part, or lateral aspect, of your knee joint. At the same time, the medial or inside part of your knees may be compressed. This gapping on the lateral aspect of your knees may place excessive stress on the lateral collateral ligaments. These strong structures connect your thigh bone to your lower leg bone and prevent excessive motion on the outside part of your knees.

Compression of the medial aspect of your knee joints may cause pain or increased wear and tear of your medial meniscus. This structure sits atop your shin bone and provides cushioning between your thigh bone and shin bone within your knee joint. Too much compression here may cause problems like a meniscus tear or medial joint arthritis.

Don't worry if you are bow legged; many people have bow legs and are able to function and exercise without pain or problems. Plus, if you take care of your knees and exercise properly, you may be able to prevent any problems with your bow legged knees.

Bow Legs and The Effect on Your Feet and Ankles

Physical therapists are trained to examine patients as a whole; they look at the entire kinetic chain when examining someone with bow legs (or knock knees, for that matter). Genu varum may have an effect on how your hips and ankles move, and you may face slight increased risk of problems in those joints while exercising.

Some research indicates that athletes with bow legs may face an increased risk of achilles tendonitis. This may be due to increased rotational forces that occur at your shin during weight-bearing activities like running and squatting. By correcting or compensating for these forces, you may be able to minimize your risk of achilles tendonitis.

A bow-legged runner is more likely to supinate their feet and ankles. This condition causes your ankles to turn out when walking and running. When your foot strikes the ankles and feet roll out. Your orthopedic physician or a physical therapist may recommend special shoe inserts or a brace or knee support in addition to a modified exercise program. If you have bow legs and do high-impact activities such as running, you might be a good candidate for an orthotic. 

Some research also indicates that people with bow legs may suffer from more problems with balance, especially in a side-to-side direction. This may be due to changes in your center of mass due to altered foot and ankle and hip position that occurs with bow leg. People with bow legs may need to focus some of their exercise sessions on improving balance and proprioception.

How to Exercise With Bow Legs

If you have bow legs, you can still exercise. One of the most important things you can do is to work on keeping your legs and knees in alignment during exercise. (Physical therapists call this neuromuscular training.) You are simply working to keep you hips, knees, and ankles in alignment while exercising. When running, make sure your knees remain right over your toes when landing on each foot. Same goes for squatting; knees under hips and knees over toes. Keeping your knees in alignment may help to make improved knee position a permanent change in your joints and minimize your risk of lower extremity injury while exercising.

Can bow legs be corrected? Maybe.

There is some research to support the claim that corrective exercise can be done to decrease the amount of space between your knees in bow legged individuals . Exercises to stretch hip and thigh muscles and to strengthen hip muscles have been shown to correct bow legged deformity. This may possibly help to decrease injury risk in bow legged individuals.

Exercises that may help improve genu varum include:

Since research indicates slight balance impairments may be present in bow legged individuals, you may wish to also incorporate balance exercises into your workout routine. Some good ideas may include:

Before starting any exercise program, check in with your physician and PT to ensure that exercising is safe for you to do.

Finding Alternatives

If you have lower leg pain, you may wish to find non-impact exercises to do. This may limit the amount of force through your knee joints and prevent wear and tear problems within your knees. You could try cycling or ​swimming as an alternative form of exercise. Lower impact exercise will better preserve your knee health that is already at risk for developing pain due to your leg alignment. Balance and flexibility exercise, such as yoga and Pilates, can be beneficial as well.

A Word From Verywell

If you have bow legs, you can exercise. Your focus should be on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and doing exercises that are enjoyable for you. To keep your knees healthy, make sure some of your focus is on lower extremity stretching, hip and leg strengthening, and improving balance. If your foot position is affected by your bow legs, you may choose to use an orthotic. Finally, if knee pain from exercise is limiting you, choosing non-impact exercises may be an alternative. Speaking with a medical professional is a good idea to get started on the right exercise program for your bow legs.

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  3. Samaei A, Bakhtiary AH, Elham F, Rezasoltani A. Effects of genu varum deformity on postural stability. Int J Sports Med. 2012;33(6):469-73. http://doi.org/10.1055/s-0031-1301331

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