Do knock knees mean the end of my dancing?

I don’t know if you can help me but my question is mainly about my knock knees. I have been dancing all of my life, and now into college, I would love to perform in a Company someday on a more professional level, I feel like I have hit a wall in my improvement and training, It’s almost like no matter what I do I cannot improve on certain things because I continually have received the same corrections and no matter how much I work on it, nothing seems to change because of my anatomical alignment from my knock knees. I feel as though I am no longer able to improve at the rate I would like to be.

Since anatomically my knees do not align over my toes, it makes balance and maintaining the proper stance in the correct alignment with Ballet and modern and everything else I do difficult as well as maintaining my turn out especially when dancing in center and moving across the floor, not really the barre work.

I hope you are understanding what I am trying to explain, I mean Ive done pretty well so far dealing with my knock knees, but I seriously feel like I am being held back at this point, and I am getting the same corrections about my alignment all the time when I try so hard to correct it. I don’t know if you have experience working with dancers with anatomical things such as knock knees or bow legs, etc, but do you have any advice for me? or any excercises or things I should be doing to help with my knock knees?

Recently I have researched and found out that there is a surgery that can be done to correct knock knees, but it takes about a year to regain full strength and mobility after the surgery, and since I am not someone to want to take that time off from dancing especially in the junior year of school, that would be something I would have to think about maybe later in my future, and I don’t even know if that would be a good idea to do anyway. All I know is I want to find out what I can do to make my last two years of college ones I can really get somewhere with my improvement even though I have knock knees, You seem so knowledgeable about everything, so any help or suggestions would be soooo wonderful! sorry for the long e-mail!

Thank you Thank you Thank you!!! Angelica

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Angelica… your question is a bit hard to answer because I’m not clear with how knock kneed you are. You are accurate that it does make it impossible to get your hip/knee/ankle in a straight line, and that is also true with a dancer who is bowlegged. How far apart are your feet when your knees are touching? It may be very helpful to go to a physical therapist that works with dancers to have the different elements of your technique looked at. For example, being knock kneed doesn’t have to influence your turnout, so you’ll want to see what the hip structure is like. Is it possible that you have a hip joint that structurally turns in some? (called an anteverted hip) I would address the hip joint separately at first from the knees.

Here’s a very short clip showing how anteversion (being structurally turned in) or retroversion (being structurally turned out) would test at the hip joint. (The 2 clips are taken from my new Essential Anatomy: A Multimedia Course for Dancers and Dance Teachers)

Moving down to the feet – the goal is to be as even as possible between the three points of the feet. With knock knees there is a strong tendency to pronate, or roll in. Training your balance on one leg would be key. Try standing on one foot and tossing a pinkie ball in the air for up to 3 minutes. Notice what area first gets tired. That is an area of tightness or weakness. Often dancers will find the outside of their hip on the standing leg getting sore first, and I encourage them to do more pinkie ball release around the pelvis and outside of the hip if that does happen.

What I want you to focus on is the fact that you have danced all your life and you continued right into college! And you don’t mention that you’ve had any significant injuries – a definite good sign. With knock knees the goal is to keep the muscles as balanced as possible from the hip down. There isn’t any exercise that will ‘cure’ the knock knees since it is a structural issue except surgery – and I’m not sure I would recommend it, especially if you are fully functioning (meaning moving without discomfort or pain).

There are certain types of dance that may be easier on your body than others, and you’d know what those are by just doing them. I’m not encouraging you to change forms – but to just explore. I had a student at Oberlin who had pretty significant knock knees, and she ended up competing nationally on the swing circuit!

My point is you obviously love dancing, and you want to improve – I got it. I want you to focus on improving the balance of all the muscles around the hip joint first. Test your turnout – look at the balance between the quads and the hamstrings – as well as the outer hip muscles and inner thigh muscles. Get them as flexible and strong as possible. Focus on your feet and improve your balance by balancing in as many different ways as possible, on your bed, on a soft pillow, standing on one leg with your eyes, closed, etc. You’ll be focusing on what you can do to improve, rather than being so aware of your knees, which you can’t structurally change.

At the college is there anyone that teaches a dance kinesiology class that you could meet with to muscle test you? That might help guide you where to focus your efforts on bringing balance to the muscle groups – the same focus that every dancer should have.

I’ve seen lots of nontraditional bodies moving in beautiful ways.. I don’t want you to give your dream up of continuing to have dance in your life after college.

warmest wishes for a great junior year at school!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

7 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Hi! I also have knock knees (and an hourglass figure). I have found your blog postings so inspiring, and the simple exercises have worked wonders for me. Your rule of standing on one foot tossing a ball from one hand to the other has really helped me in my balance and over all leg and hip strength. Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to us, and keep up the blog.
    Thanks again! Sarah MO, USA

    Reply
  2. Margaret R. Jones
    Margaret R. Jones says:

    What is the correct way to land from a jump when legs are mis-aligned?

    I hope this is the right place to post this question. I am only a little bit knock-kneed. If I stand with my feet together, parallel, my knees do turn in toward each other unless I consciously rotate out from the hips (which I always do). However, I do have a knee tracking/alignment problem. Basically, my tibia and foot turn out a lot like the “external rotation” illustration in the “Knee Unit” video on the home page (at 1:40). This is not a problem in dance or exercise classes as long as I have my feet on the ground. In first position, for example, I can plant my feet firmly on the floor with approx. 40 to 45 degree turnout (my hips have about 21, 22 degrees of turnout, each), then pull up with my ankles and crank my hips out so that my knees are aligned over my toes and so I’m not pronating. Of course it is harder to keep that position when I’m in releve, especially on one foot, because there’s less friction to use to keep everything in place.

    But the really big problem arises when I’m in the air, leaping, where there is no friction at all. I look down at my legs or see them in the mirror and, to my horror, they are totally out of alignment again. No matter how well I keep my hips turned out, the tibias and feet turn out even further. The problem is, of course, landing with that terrible alignment. So far I have not wrecked my knees. Maybe this is due to the fact that many years ago I took parallel-walking, speed-walking lessons in which I learned to put my heel down in front of me with my foot pointing straight forward. I’m not sure how I do this but I think that for a moment I allow my hip and knee to turn inward and maybe also let my foot sickle a tiny bit. Then the split second there is any traction I correct to align well over the foot.

    But if this is the sort of thing I’m doing when I land from a jump (with toes touching first rather than heel, of course) I doubt that it is correct. I am worried that if I progress — jumping more, faster, higher, farther — sooner or later I will wreck my knees. What is the correct landing technique, or maybe I should say pre-landing technique?

    Again, I apologize if this is the wrong place to ask this.

    Reply
    • deborah
      deborah says:

      It sounds like you have some tibial torsion, Margaret, and it makes perfect sense that you’d feel less control over the 2 areas of your leg while in the air. The goal will be to land with the weight evenly placed between the inside and outside of the foot (so no pronating during landing) and know that if you can roll through the foot in landing and maintain the foot in its proper alignment, even if the knee is over the foot, you should be okay. With tibial torsion they won’t ever easily line up so the concern should be on keeping the foot in proper alignment, and yes, work the turnout as well as you can from the hip, knowing the feet will always be a bit more turned out because of the tibial torsion.

      Reply
  3. threenorns
    threenorns says:

    hello – i have a ballet-obsessed six year old daughter (i know – that’s like saying i have some wet water). she’s a big girl – she was very obese as a toddler (many doctors, many evaluations, nobody could figure it out because she didn’t eat all that much more than a normal toddler her age) but now she’s best described as “strong”. that’s what ppl say – she’s “strong”, she’s “healthy looking”, she’s “powerfully built”. she doesn’t have any bones showing but she doesn’t have a belly or chub rolls.

    so: she’s in ballet. she’s just beginning (this will be her second term) but the teacher is already rather pleased with her – she’s very powerful and she’s learning to pay better attention. the best part is she only needs to see something two or three times before she nails it. her first performance on stage in front of a real paying audience after 15 lessons, she was cool as a cucumber – not a hint of nerves and she didn’t show any annoyance at the girls who were wittering and twittering with stage fright – very professional.

    she’s knock kneed.

    i read that this is a normal stage of development but when i tried to find out how this will affect her dancing, well! it’s all over the map – some say to pull her back or even withdraw until they go away (IF they go away); some say it’s nothing, go ahead; and so on.

    i don’t push her to exercise or do anything like that – she loves to dance and jump and spin all on her own and i don’t want to make it a chore and suck away her enjoyment so when she does, i show my appreciation and when she doesn’t i don’t notice. but i don’t want her to end up with potential issues later on down the road, kwim?

    Reply
    • deborah
      deborah says:

      If she is truly knock-kneed (Valgus in medical terms) there aren’t any exercises to change that because it is structural. Is it true that children’s bodies go through growth spurts and changes constantly and I would focus and be aware of keeping her healthy, fully hydrated, getting enough rest… etc. all the markers of overall health and let her enjoyment of dance be her reason for doing it. If she begins to have knee of ankle problems or aches that wold be the time to reflect upon her training the amount of time spent in class and whether there are other forms of dance she might also enjoy if ballet isn’t working for her body.

      Reply

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