Chronic knee pain or joint pain due to conditions like arthritis and osteoarthritis are common concerns for many, especially as one grows older. These occur due to lifestyle (jobs that involve standing for longer hours), wear and tear, lack of exercise, etc. Subconsciously, when one suffers from knee pain, excess pressure is put on the hip joints which is not a healthy alternative.
Our knees are probably the most overworked joints in the body. They are extremely important for carrying our weight and taking us from one place to another. They also act as shock absorbers from everyday, regular movements like walking, running, jumping or even yoga postures. The first step towards taking care of knees is to work on having flexible hip joints. This will reduce the stress transferred from the hips to the knees and will keep the knees safe. Strengthening the muscles and connective tissues around the knees helps. The stronger the hamstrings, quadriceps, abductors, adductors and calves, the stronger the knees. Injuries and knee problems are often due to mechanical issues with the kneecap, which impacts the ligaments and the joints.
What to keep in mind when practicing yoga for knee pain
Firstly, it is important to get your doctor’s sign-up before starting a yoga class. Every person’s body is different and your knee pain could be due to various reasons. So, before starting your practice, be sure to check with your doctor. Inform your yoga teacher about the same so they can make note of what poses may or may not suit you.
Always warm up and cool down before getting into a flow of practice. Use props and modifications to poses if you need extra support. You can use a chair, bolster, blanket or wall support for certain postures. Always listen to your body and do what feels right. If a certain posture is difficult, stop and inform your teacher. Don’t push yourself as it might lead to injuries. Certain postures, like the one-legged king pigeon pose, should be avoided as they will add excess pressure on the joints. Your yoga teacher will guide you through such postures. If you are facing excessive knee pain or other symptoms like redness and swelling, then pause and take a break. Start with hip loosening yoga postures that will improve strength, mobility and flexibility of the hip joint.
Yoga postures for knee pain
Cobbler’s pose (Baddha Konasana)
This posture strengthens the muscles around the knees such as the hamstrings and quadriceps. If you are not able to bring the feet too close to the groin, keep them a little away and move the legs up and down (like you would in the butterfly pose).
How to do cobbler’s pose:
- Sit with the spine straight and legs wide apart.
- Now bend the legs and bring the feet as close to the groin as you can. Join the soles of the feet together.
- Grab the feet or the toes tightly with the hands. You can place the hands on the mat, below the feet, if you need more support. Ensure your back remains straight.
- Now slowly try to bring the feet closer to the groin if you can.
- If you are comfortable, you can also try to slowly push the thighs and knees towards the mat. Remember to be gentle and do as much as possible.
- Engage the core so you are able to hold the posture. Keep your attention on the stretch in the groin, inner thighs and back.
- Stay here for a few slow, deep breaths. This will help you relax in the posture.
Reclined pigeon pose (Supta Kapotasana)
An alternative to intense poses like the pigeon pose and king pigeon pose, this is a gentle hip opener which reduces the tightness in the hip joints and muscles in the region. Practice slowly and with the support of props if needed.
How to do reclined pigeon pose:
- Lie down on your back with your legs straight and arms beside the body.
- Now place the right foot on the opposite thigh. It will look like the figure four.
- Flex your toes and lift the left foot off the ground. Now take the right arm through the opening between the legs and bring the left arm to the outside of the left leg. Grab either the left shin or the hamstrings with both hands.
- Keep the back and head firmly on the mat. Keep pulling the left shin towards your body as you press the right knee slightly away from you.
Triangle pose (Trikonasana)
This posture strengthens all the muscles of the legs, arms and sides of the waist. It is suitable even for seniors. Take the support of a chair to hold the posture and stay balanced. It can also be done sitting on a chair. One must avoid doing the posture with a wide stance between the legs.
How to do triangle pose:
- Exhale and take the Right leg in between the palms, turn the left toes out to 90 degrees
- Keeping the right palm on the ground or coming on the fingertips - slightly behind the right heel
- Inhale, extend the left arm up towards the sky, rotating the hip, abdomen and chest to the left side;
- Straighten the front knee, pushing the hips back, maintaining a lateral stretch on the left side of the body.
- Find your balance looking down, and then look up towards the left fingertips.
- Exhale, look Down and bring the left hand down on the floor. Inhale, take the right leg back, coming into downward-facing dog.
Chair pose (Utkatasana)
This posture also strengthens all the muscles of the legs. It specifically strengthens the thigh muscles, which support the knees greatly.
How to do chair pose:
- Stand in the tree pose (Tadasana). Now take your feet slightly apart (a little less than shoulder width).
- Slowly bend your knees such that your thighs are parallel (or almost parallel) to the floor. Pretend like you are sitting on the chair, but actually your buttocks are in the air. Make sure your back remains straight.
- Now raise both the hands up keeping them straight. Look directly in front of you and hold the posture with your breath.
- You will have to engage the core and thighs to hold the posture.
Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana)
The bridge pose aligns the knees and strengthens the surrounding areas such as the glutes, back, and hamstrings.
How to do bridge pose:
- Lie on the back, bend the knees and bring the heels closer to the buttocks. Keep the heels firmly on the mat. The feet should be hip width apart on the floor with the knees and ankles in a straight line.
- Hold the ankles with your hands.
- Inhale and slowly lift the buttocks and hips up. Now lift the back and arch the back upward as you raise the lower, middle and upper back off the floor.
- Now lift the chest as high as possible towards the chin without straining. Ensure that the feet and shoulders lie firmly on the ground. Keep the inner thighs and glutes active and engaged. The thighs should be parallel to each other.
- Gently roll the shoulders and support your weight with the shoulders, arms and feet.
- Stay here for a few deep breaths.
Child’s pose (Balasana)
This restorative posture provides relief to the knees, releases stiffness and pain, as well as helps take your mind off the pain.
How to do child’s pose:
- Kneel down on your mat with your knees about hip width apart.
- Now slowly bend forward bringing your forehead on the mat. Your arms should be stretched out in front of the body.
- You can also place a cushion below your forehead.
- Stay here for a few slow deep breaths and then gently come back up.
Other exercises that involve calf raises and thigh contractions (which can be done with the support of a chair) are effective practices to release pain as well as strengthen the region around the knees. These exercises can be done with the support of a chair. Join a yoga class with an experienced teacher to learn the right way to do this.
Benefits of practicing yoga for knee pain
Yoga allows you to practice low-impact asanas that tend to focus on the root cause rather than offering a temporary solution. As a slow and relaxing practice it allows you to practice what you can without putting excessive pressure. Yoga postures work on strengthening the areas around the knee joints, improving mobility and flexibility. For seniors, yoga makes the muscles more flexible, reducing chronic pain from arthritis.
Yoga for knee pain is also an effective way to recover from injuries and surgeries. Of course, as we have mentioned, it is important to consult your doctor first. Yoga will also improve balance and coordination so when walking or standing up, one is more stable. Yoga also makes you mindful. So if you are subconsciously putting pressure on the hip joints, yoga will help you correct that.
Blood circulation to the knee joints and muscles improves along with oxygen supply, improving strength and stability. Range of motion improves allowing you to be more active.
Yoga for knee pain is an effective way to manage pain, improve balance, stability and strength of the surrounding muscles. The initial classes might be difficult, but staying consistent will help you see progress and pain relief over time. For those who do not have pain but are looking to build strength and maintain knee health, postures such as standing forward bend, warrior one and two, low lunge, wide legged forward bend are a few asanas to practice.