Person holding knee
Managing Knee Pain: Article 4 of 5

Are you Knock-kneed or Bowlegged?

Private: Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD
Contributor Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD

Knock-kneed and bowlegged are terms used to describe an individual’s gait or stance. A person who is knock-kneed has a medical condition known as a valgus deformity, an outward rotation of the tibia on the femur. Bowlegged describes a medical condition known as a varus deformity, an inward rotation of the tibia, resulting in a leg that appears bowed out. Both conditions can lead to misalignments of the hip or knee, potentially causing injury and knee pain. Taking the proper precautions and preparing yourself and your joints for your sport or desired workout can help prevent injury.

What causes knock knees or bowlegs?

Genetic abnormalities, along with muscle imbalances, can cause these deformities, which result in excessive hip-knee angles. These angles can put an individual at risk for injury due to the compressive and loading forces placed on the muscles and joints. These injuries can affect various joints of the body, including the knee, ankle, hip, and spine, through direct and indirect forces.

Women have a greater chance of having a valgus deformity, due to the fact that a woman’s hips are normally wider than a man’s. Valgus deformities can lead to abnormal forces around the hip and knee joint causing several common knee disorders, including iliotibial band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome, chondromalacia of the patella, and more. Repetitive trauma to the knee, which can be caused by activities such as running or biking, combined with improper alignment, can lead to joint pain and may damage the internal structures of the knee, such as the ligaments or the menisci.

Professionals who train female athletes have become increasingly aware of the benefits of training the hips and knees for improved strength at various angles, directions, speeds, and heights. Hip and knee strengthening exercises in all directions with proper form, as well as balance and stability training, will help provide improved support.

Managing the pain

Knee pain that increases when you are working out or that flares up with particular activities (such as climbing stairs, getting up from a chair), should not be ignored. Contact your physician or physical therapist to learn about various ways to address the pain. Interventions such as physical therapy can help teach you appropriate exercises and proper mechanics to protect your knee from further harm and help you manage the pain.

Private: Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD
Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD

Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD, is Surgical Director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Team Physician for Stonehill College Athletics, and Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Before you go,

Learn how to cope with all kinds of joint pain, from pain caused by sports injuries to joint pain linked to aging and osteoarthritis. Our experts can help you find out when your pain requires medical care. Read more articles about joint pain.