Cubitus valgus is an elbow deformity where the elbow is angled away from the body. In people with this condition, when the elbow is as straight as possible alongside the body with the palm facing forward, the forearm turns out. A related condition known as a varus deformity works in the opposite way, with the angle of the elbow turned in, forcing the arm against the body. These conditions are usually easy to diagnose on a visual examination, although some diagnostic testing may be needed to determine the cause.
An acquired valgus deformity is usually caused by a fracture involving the elbow. People can develop this condition in response to a poorly healed fracture or dislocation. Congenitally, a number of conditions are associated with this abnormality in the formation of the elbow, and babies can be born with a valgus deformity that may increase in severity over time. Genetic conditions known to cause this condition include Turner syndrome, and other symptoms may be present as well, depending on the level of severity.
Some degree of angling away from the body is normal. If the arm hung straight down, the forearm would brush against the hips and thighs in many individuals. The presence of a small natural angle to turn the forearm out prevents this problem and is known as the carrying angle. A more severe angle is a sign of cubitus valgus. X-rays can be used to determine the precise angle of the elbow and determine if it is within normal tolerances or not.
This deformity should not cause problems for the patient unless it is severe. Arm function is usually not affected by cubitus valgus, and while the arm may hang at an odd angle or feel awkward, the patient shouldn't experience hardships as a result of the unusual angle of the turned-out arm. If problems do develop, the situation can be discussed with an orthopedic surgeon. In a surgery, the angle of the elbow can be brought within normal range.
After surgery to correct cubitus valgus, physical therapy may be recommended to help the patient regain muscle strength in the elbow. Physical therapy can be started as soon as a surgeon indicates it is safe and may involve stretches, weight lifting, and other activities intended to increase strength and flexibility in the elbow. These exercises will also help keep the elbow in alignment, preventing scarring and contractures that might pull the elbow out of position after surgery.