When you're standing normally, do your knees slightly bend outward? If so, you might have bowed legs, the proper name for which is genu varum. The condition can either originate in childhood or develop over time. Bow legs in adults can cause knee pain.
In some cases, this condition is "fixed" — you won't be able to alter the position of the bones — and requires surgery. If it's caused by tight hip muscles, you can perform exercises that strengthen muscles to pull your knees back into place and stretch muscles that are pulling them out.
Understand Genu Varum
Bow legs got their name from the shape of your leg when you have the condition. Your legs actually look like the bend of a bow. The top, your hips, and the bottom, your ankles, are in a normal position. Your knees bend outwards like they're trying to get away from each other.
Genu varum isn't only caused by the knees being pulled out to the side. There is also a slight rotation of your leg bones. They rotate out to the side, which presses out knees to the outside.
How to Fix It
To fix bowed knees you need to bring your knees in closer to each other, which is called adduction. You also need to rotate your knees back in, which is called internal rotation.
Some people have hips that are built to press their legs out to the side, which makes correcting this problem even tougher. If that's the case, you might feel some tightness in your hips during these exercises. In that case, don't push the exercises too hard and avoid anything that's painful to either your hips or knees.
The muscles you want to work are your adductors, which pull your knees in toward each other, and your internal rotator muscles. The muscles you want to stretch are your glutes, which pull your knees out to the side and rotate your leg externally.
1. Foam Roller Toe Touch
Holding a foam roller between your legs as you touch your toes will activate your adductors and help pull your knees in.
How to: Put a foam roller or rolled-up towel between your knees. Stand with your feet a few inches from each other. Squeeze the foam roller between your legs, keep your knees straight, and bend forward to touch your toes. Go as low as you can, then come back up and raise your arms overhead. Repeat 10 times.
2. Toes-In Squat
Use this exercise to use the muscles on the inside of your thigh more than the muscles on the outside to squat. This helps strengthen the muscles that pull your knees back in towards the center.
How to: Start standing with your feet three inches apart. Turn your toes in towards each other until your big toes touch. Then, squat down as low as you can and reach your arms straight forward to maintain balance. Squat as low as you comfortably can, but don't worry if you don't go as low as you normally would. It's normal for your range of motion to be limited in this exercise.
3. Side-Lying Hip Internal Rotation
Use this exercise to target the muscles that rotate your leg in and point your knees forward. They're a difficult muscle to isolate, but this exercise takes care of that.
How to: Lie on your side with your legs on top of each other and knees bent at 90-degrees. Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your knees with your feet behind you. Keep your knees together and raise your top foot off of your bottom foot, rotating your top leg in.
Raise it as high as you can while keeping both knees bent, then lower it back down slowly. Repeat 10 times on each leg. You can add a miniature resistance band for some extra resistance.
4. Figure Four Stretch
This glute stretch will help your powerful hip muscles relax to let your knees come in a little, helping your bow leggedness.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Pick up your right leg and put the outside of your right ankle across your left knee.
Reach through the gap between your left and right knee with your right arm to grab the front of your left shin. Reach your left hand under your right foot and grab the front of your left shin with that hand as well.
Lean back and hug your left knee in towards your chest, stretching the right glute. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.