Osteoarthritis of the knee is associated with deformities of the lower limb and malalignment of the limb segments. Pathogenetic relationships between the two are poorly understood. Alignment was studied by standardized radiography in 167 symptomatic Canadian osteoarthritis patients, and compared with 119 healthy adult volunteers. In healthy adults overall alignment (hip-knee-ankle angle) was principally determined by distal femoral valgus (condylar hip angle) and proximal tibial-plateau varus (plateau-ankle angle): the angle between the joint surfaces (condylar plateau) was relatively constant. In osteoarthritis, disease-associated differences included condylar-plateau angles that were divergent: accentuated medial convergence in varus osteoarthritis and lateral convergence in valgus osteoarthritis. This was interpreted as change arising from focal loss of cartilage in the medial (varus osteoarthritis) or lateral (valgus osteoarthritis) compartments of the knee. The changes would contribute to increasing limb malalignment during disease progression. But differences of limb geometry also contributed to malalignment. These were the average trends: in varus osteoarthritis there was abnormal femoral geometry (lesser femoral condylar valgus), but tibial surface geometry was the same. In valgus osteoarthritis, the opposite was true: abnormal tibial geometry (lesser plateau varus), but normal femoral geometry. A possible explanation is that these abnormal knee geometries pre-exist and predispose to osteoarthritis, although it is not impossible that they (like condylar-plateau angle) change as disease progresses. Further approaches to population studies are discussed based on these findings, along with their implications for knee surgery.