Condition Spotlight: Genu Varum and Genu Valgum

genu valgum and genu varum diagram.

What is genu varum and genu valgum?

Genu varum and genu valgum refer to the position of the legs in relation to both the hips and ankles. Both of these conditions can affect the way the lower limbs function, from the hips down to the feet.

Genu varum – also known as ‘bowed legs’, occurs when there is outward bowing of the knees and the lower limbs are angled inwards towards the midline of the body.

Genu valgum – also known as ‘knocked knees’ or ‘knock-knees’, occurs when the knees are angled in towards each other.


What does it feel like to have knocked knees or bowed legs?

Knocked knees and bowed legs can often result in hip, knee, ankle or foot pain. This will depend on the position of the joints and where there is excessive pressure.

Those with knocked knees may experience pain through the medial aspect (inside) of the knee, and those with bowed legs may experience pain on the lateral (outside) aspect of the knee.

Both conditions may cause pain through the ankle joint or through the arches of the feet.


What causes genu varum and genu valgum?

Generally, knocked knees and bowed legs are a normal part of development.

It is thought that sometimes the alignment of the lower limbs is forced to change to allow a baby to fit in the womb.

The position of the femur will also cause either of these conditions. Some bone conditions such as rickets (a deficiency of calcium and vitamin D) or Blount’s disease (a condition that affects the growth plates in the knees) may also contribute.


Who does genu varum and/or valgum affect?

These conditions can be present at birth, known as a congenital condition. The position of the baby in the womb can sometimes result in this.

They can also occur due to injury, trauma, infection or those with underlying conditions affecting bone formation and integrity.


How are knock knees and bowed legs diagnosed?

We perform a thorough assessment to diagnose both of these conditions.

They are generally quite easy to diagnose through a visual assessment, however we perform a variety of other assessments to understand why it is present and what other structures are affected.

This includes a range of tests while you are sitting or lying down to assess your range of motion through the hips, knees, ankles and feet. Weight bearing and gait assessments are then also conducted to understand how your body moves and identify any areas of weakness that need to be improved.


When should I be concerned about knock knees or bowed legs?

Knock knees and bowed legs are part of a child’s development to an extent. As babies are learning to walk, you will often notice that they have quite a wide stance and seem to have bowed legs.

This is usually present from birth but becomes more obvious as they stand and walk. This is to help them develop their balance and centre of gravity as they learn the new skill of walking!

This is generally observed until the child is about 2-3 years of age. Following this, children often tend to develop more of a knocked knees position. This is due to the changes and growth of the lower limbs and usually resolves at about 8-10 years of age.

A visit to a podiatrist is necessary if pain is present anywhere from the hips down to the feet, if you notice that these conditions are not resolving as your child grows or if it seems that only one limb is affected.

The earlier we can intervene the better, however adults with these conditions may have never sought treatment for these conditions.


How can knock knees and bowed legs be treated?

In most cases, genu valgum and genu varum will resolve without treatment and we will only intervene if absolutely necessary.

If required, treatment for both of these conditions is similar, however may target different areas of the lower limbs.

Stretching and strengthening program

This will not change the alignment of the joints, however will help to improve movement and improve strength of the surrounding structures.


Orthotics can assist with realigning the lower limbs.

They are often suitable for those who are suffering with knee, ankle or foot pain as a result of these conditions.

They provide correction and support to allow the lower limb and feet to function efficiently.

Footwear modifications

This can include simple heel lifts or wedging in shoes to assist with alignment.

Surgery (only in severe cases)

Surgical intervention is usually a last resort option and only used in severe cases of either condition.


If you have genu varum or valgum

If any of what we’ve described today sounds familiar to you, or you are experiencing pain or discomfort in your feet and/or lower limbs, then why not come see us at our podiatry clinic? We can assess, diagnose and treat these conditions and a wide variety of others that may be causing pain for you.

Book in to see us by calling us on (03) 9432 2689 or online here.


Aaron Dri