When I first started practicing yoga, I was getting into it after six years of aerobic activity. My knees and hips suffered the consequences from repeated injury from impact, and as I progressed in my practice, some of the yoga poses hurt my knees. I incorporated modifications, alternative poses, and even the use of props in my practice. This helped me to feel the pose while simultaneously healing and strengthening my knees.
Having bad knees shouldn’t keep you from your yoga mat. If you experience or have knee problems, choose a slow, alignment-based style of yoga such as Iyengar or Hatha yoga and ask your teacher prior to class about modifications you could do. Taking care of your knees and knee pain with yoga poses will help you enjoy your practice more and keep active more easily.
Today, I give you five tips to tackle knee pain with yoga.
1. Don’t Disregard Pain
This may seem very obvious, but not many bother. When you practice yoga, you should not feel any pain in your knees. You should feel no little “twitch” or any pain in the front of the knee, under the kneecap, or deep inside the knee.
If you feel any pain, get out of the pose, realign, and try again.
Warming up your hip joints prior to beginning your practice is essential for maintaining good knee health.
3. Use Your Feet
Simply lifting and spreading your toes in standing poses engages the muscles in your lower legs and, in turn, protects the ligaments in your knees.
4. Micro Bend Your Knees
- Never let your knee bend backward as it affects your knee joint and the tendons and ligaments in the knee.
- When the weight is on your legs, never hyper-extend the knees.
Your knee caps (patellas) have no padding and a hard floor offers virtually no support for the aching knees. When standing in straight-legged poses, give your knees a little bend. This will allow your muscles, not your knee joint, to support you. Don’t lock your knees! Some styles of yoga teach locking the knees. There are ways to do this that are safe, but the mechanics are complicated and often not taught properly. In addition, when you are in wide-legged poses, energetically draw your legs toward each other, this will engage your leg muscles more actively, drawing the muscles to the bone, thus protecting your knees.
5. Use Props To Modify And Add Comfort
You may have to try several different props and modifications before finding the one that provides comfort for you. If you experience discomfort when applying pressure in poses like Table, Crescent Lunge, Cat/Cow, etc., modify by simply folding a blanket and placing it under your knee to provide additional cushion.
Use blankets, blocks, or bolsters to support your knee if you anticipate or feel any extra pressure on your knees while holding a pose.
If extreme flexion of the knee causes pain or discomfort like in the Child’s pose or Hero, then sit on a block or bolster or roll a blanket and place it between your lower calf and thigh close to your bottom to reduce the bend in the knee. You don’t need a “yoga” blanket or bolster; any thick throw blanket or extra firm pillow will do.
How Does Yoga Help?
- Yoga strengthens the muscles in the lower and upper legs, which protects and stabilizes the knee joint.
- Performed correctly, yoga’s fluid movements allow swollen or otherwise painful joints to glide smoothly over one another, increasing mobility and strength without excess wear and tear.
- Yoga is a safe alternative to weight-bearing exercises that could worsen knee joints because yoga strengthens the muscles around them, which reduces tension and increases mobility.
Remember, when you go to a yoga class, it’s your practice. The teacher and the students around you can’t feel what’s going on in your body; only you can. So listen to your body and respond to it accordingly. Never feel embarrassed or feel judged for using a prop or skipping an asana altogether, if that’s what you need to do. Take care of yourself, and as always, consult your doctor prior to beginning any yoga practice!