Bowed leg is a condition where the leg is bent outward at the knee and the foot and ankle are in contact. If you have bow legs, there will be a gap between your shins and knees when your feet are together.
When you have bowed legs, high-intensity activities like running or cardio can put pressure on your knee joints. This increases the risk of knee osteoarthritis, which wears away cartilage.it may also increase risk patellal Pain syndrome, where the kneecap rubs against the end of the thighbone.
If you have arched legs, you can take steps to make the movement more comfortable. You can even help improve your condition by exercising.
This article discusses the challenges and benefits of exercising when you have arched legs. It also covers tips on how to exercise safely and how your healthcare provider can help.
Challenges of the Bow Leg Workout
If you have bowed legs, various structures in the knee may add stress and strain. While this occurs with common activities like walking, high-intensity exercise like running can amplify stress.
The medical term for bowed legs is varus. It is the opposite of genu valgus (knee valgus), where the knee is bent inward.
This video has been medically reviewed by Oluseun Olufade, MD.
The bowed leg creates a gap on the outside or outside of the knee joint. At the same time, the inner or inner side of the knee may be compressed.
This gap on the outside of the knee can put undue stress on the lateral collateral ligament. These sturdy structures connect your thigh bone to your calf bone. They prevent excessive movement on the outside of the knee.
Compression of the inside of the knee joint may cause pain or increase wear on the medial meniscus. This cartilage sits above your shinbone and provides cushioning between your thighbone and the shinbone inside your knee joint.
Too much compression here can lead to problems like a torn meniscus, which is a tear in the cartilage. It can also cause arthritis of the medial joints located on the inside of the knee.
When you have bow legs, you may have a gap on the outside of your knee joint, putting pressure on the ligaments. The inside of the knee joint is compressed, which can lead to knee problems such as a torn meniscus.
Movement and Strength
Genu varum may also affect the way your hips and ankles move. You may be at a slightly increased risk of developing problems with these joints when exercising.
Some studies suggest that athletes with bowed legs are at increased risk of Achilles tendonitis, a tendon injury near the Achilles tendon. This may be due to increased rotational forces that occur at the tibia during weight-bearing activities such as running and squatting. By correcting or compensating for these forces, you can minimize risk.
Bow-legged runners are more likely to supinate the foot and ankle, roll the ankle outward, and turn the sole inward. This puts pressure on the outer edge of the foot and the smaller toes. Insoles or orthoses (medical devices placed in shoes) may be recommended to correct this problem.
Some research suggests that people with bow legs may experience more balance problems, especially with side-to-side movements. This may be due to a shift in the center of gravity due to the repositioning of the feet, ankles, and hips of the arched leg.
Bowed legs can cause hip and ankle problems and increase the risk of Achilles tendonitis. If you walk and run on the outside edge of your foot, you may need insoles to correct it.
The benefits of exercising bow legs
Exercise is an important part of maintaining overall health. Bowed legs shouldn’t get in the way of your workout. Many people with bow legs are able to work and exercise normally without pain or problems.
By taking care of your knees and exercising properly, you can even prevent problems. For example, stretching and strengthening your hips and legs will help keep your knees healthy.
Exercise can help you manage your weight, which can help prevent joint problems. Obesity is another risk factor for knee osteoarthritis. If you are obese and have arched legs, your risk is five times that of an obese person without arched legs.
People with bow legs may need to focus some of their workouts on improving balance and proprioception, which is the perception of your body’s movements. This may improve your function in daily activities and may help prevent falls.
Some studies have found that corrective exercises can reduce the space between your knees when you have bowed legs. You may wish to add these corrective exercises to your routine, as described below.
If you have bow legs, exercise can benefit your joint health by helping to balance and strengthen your legs. It can also help prevent joint problems like osteoarthritis, especially if you’re obese.
How to Exercise Bow Legs
If you have bow legs, you can still exercise. You may need to choose a less impactful exercise. These are unlikely to cause future knee problems.
It’s important to do the exercise to keep your legs and knees aligned. Physical therapists call it neuromuscular training, which helps improve body movement and stability.
A physical therapist can work with you on exercises to help correct bowed legs and improve balance. They can also recommend low-impact activities to help protect the knee and modify exercises to make them safer.
Exercises that may help correct bowed legs
Exercises that stretch the hip and thigh muscles and strengthen the gluteal muscles have been shown to help correct bowed legs. They may also help reduce the risk of injury.
Exercises that may help improve knee varus include:
- hamstring stretch
- groin stretch
- piriformis (muscle in the hip area) stretch
- Strengthen the gluteus medius (side glute) with resistance bands
exercises to improve balance
Studies have shown that if you have arched legs, you may have a mild balance disorder. Therefore, you may want to add balance exercises to your exercise routine. Some good ideas might include:
- Standing on one leg: standing on one foot
- Tandem stance: standing with one foot directly in front of the other
- BOSU Ball Training: Workout with BOSU Balance Trainer, Platform on Dome
- Balance board or BAPS board: Stand on a swingable board to help improve balance
Consult your healthcare provider and physical therapist before starting any exercise program. They can help make sure your workout is safe for you.
Choose safe activities
Exercises with little or no impact will better protect your knee health. They can limit force through the knee joint and prevent wear problems.
If you already have calf pain, you might want to find some non-impact exercises to do. You can try cycling or swimming as another form of exercise. Balance and flexibility exercises, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates, may also be beneficial.
Maintaining knee alignment during exercise may help improve knee position and minimize the risk of injury.
- When running, make sure your knees are over your toes when each foot hits the ground.
- When squatting, don’t squat so deeply that your hips are lower than your knees. Keep your knees higher than your toes.
- Wear shoes that provide proper support.
- Consult a footwear specialist or podiatrist to determine which type of shoe or insert will provide the best foot mechanics. You may need prescription orthoses.
How your healthcare team can help
If you have knee pain or injury, please consult your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.
If you have bowed legs, a medical professional can help make sure you exercise properly. A physical therapist (PT) who specializes in orthopedic disorders is a good place to start.
Physical therapists are trained to perform a holistic examination of a patient. They study how joints and muscles work together. Your PT can assess your legs and tailor a safe and effective exercise program for you. They can also recommend modifications to help prevent pain.
Braces and Orthotics
In addition to a modified exercise program, your healthcare provider may recommend insoles, braces, or knee braces.
If you have arched legs and do high-intensity activities like running, you may be a good candidate for orthotics. This is an insole designed to correct the way you walk.
Corrective braces are more commonly used in children with bowed legs who require intervention. These include an improved knee-ankle-foot device that is worn day and night.
Braces are not usually used to correct bowed legs in adults. For adults, it is best to consult your healthcare provider or physical therapist. They can advise you on whether a brace will help your problem or make it worse.
If you have bowed legs, a physical therapist can help you make sure you’re exercising correctly. They can help you create an exercise program that is safe and effective for you. Your doctor may also recommend orthoses to help correct any problems with walking or running.
Balance Physical Therapy: Exercises, Equipment, and More
Exercise can be challenging when you have arched legs, but it can also help improve the health of your joints.
Because bowed legs can change the structure of your knees, it can affect the way your legs move. This can lead to an increased risk of knee, hip, and ankle problems. You may also have more issues with balance and stability.
Exercise can help you avoid some of these joint problems by strengthening and stretching your hips and legs. Certain exercises can even improve the alignment of your legs.
Your doctor or physical therapist can advise you on safe and effective exercise.
If you have bow legs, you can exercise. Your focus should be on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and doing the exercises you enjoy.
To keep your knees healthy, make sure you focus some of your attention on lower body extension, hip and leg strength, and improving balance.
If your foot position is affected by a bowed leg, you may choose to use an orthosis.
Finally, if exercise-induced knee pain is limiting you, opting for non-impact exercises may be an option. Talk to a medical professional to start developing the right exercise program for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the cause of bowed legs?
Bowed legs (knee varus) are normal in children under 2 years of age, but usually subside by 3 or 4 years of age. Some children develop permanent bow legs due to conditions such as Blount disease or rickets, while adults may develop bow legs (especially if obese) due to severe knee osteoarthritis.
Does exercise make bow legs worse?
While the benefits of exercise always outweigh the risks, people with bow legs can further damage joints and ligaments if they engage in high-intensity activities that put too much stress on the knees (as well as the hips and ankles).
What are the unsafe exercises for bowed legs?
There are no hard and fast rules, but sports that involve a lot of running and/or jumping and sudden changes in direction should be treated with caution. This includes football, tennis, rugby, volleyball, basketball and distance running.
Which exercises are safe if you have bow legs?
Low-impact activities that place minimal stress on the knees, hips, and ankles are great for people with bowed legs. This includes cycling, swimming, rowing, yoga, Pilates, roller skating, Tai Chi and resistance band training.
Is it possible to exercise the correct bow legs?
It can help. Studies have shown that arched legs can be improved with consistent stretches of the thigh and buttock muscles. This includes hamstring, groin, and deep gluteal stretches that help release tension where ligaments connect to bones. Losing weight can also help.