Genu Varum is the technical name for bowed legs
Our legs go through a natural developmental sequence when we are young, we develop bowlegs from 20-22 months of age. This then straightens out and keeps going past neutral into knocked knees, peaking at 4 years of age and this should all come back to a normal position again by the time we get to 7. Sometimes, they come back too far and our legs look like they’re bowed. Its not a mystery though, there is always a reason.
When you notice someone’s bowed, we think “…geez they look a bit weird, how often do they ride a horse?”, but even though they look awkward the cause is not often the knees themselves. The knee is forced into that outward position because something further up or down (possibly the hip or ankle) has displaced the normal knee mechanics causing them to bend outwards.
Instead of being evenly spread through all the joints of the lower body, we might be avoiding putting pressure through an old hip injury or surgery (even childhood hernia operations), or an uncomfortable or previously injured ankle.
The knee is the one that buckles or starts to face inwards to accommodate the load.
The knee closes on the inner side and forces the joint open on the outer side, being pushed further away from the other knee.
If someone has, for example, hurt their hip or sprained an ankle especially when they were younger (see our blog on “Why your posture is not your fault” by Dr Katie Willy), this can mechanically change the orientation of the knee. As shown by those research studies mentioned below, if there’s something not comfortable with the hip then we need to alter where our force goes through, and the outside of the knee seems to be a common scenario to close. The good thing is we know with some tailored awareness and movement practice we can re-train the joints to work together with the rest of the body. This is what we see in clinic and in our own bodies.
With the knees having to succumb to the loads placed on them, they are a mechanical strategy because somewhere another joint is not moving enough or moving too much. It’s through investigating the joints that we unlock the reasons for the bowed legs, and then re-train the root cause rather than focusing on the knee.