The human knee is a deceptively simple hinge joint that flexes and extends the leg. But look closer, and you might call the knee a crazy and improbable Rube Goldberg mechanism, where the femur (thigh bone) balances the weight of the upper body atop the tibia (the larger of the two shin bones). The kneecap or patella, smaller than a mango seed, slides up and down the front of the joint without any bony attachment to the shin or thigh. This entire gizmo is knitted together with ligaments and tendons, and cushioned by fluid and cartilage. Maybe you’re thinking, “Wow, a lot of things could go wrong here.” You’re right: Knee injuries are the most common reason for visiting an orthopedic surgeon.
Are some yoga poses bad for tricky knees?
It depends on the nature of the injury and where you are in the healing stage. Standing Poses, for example, are excellent for strengthening and stabilizing the supportive structure around the knees… yet can put knees at risk if improperly aligned. Trikonasana is only one “tricky asana” where knees are concerned. Others include Utkatasana (Chair Pose), Virasana (Hero’s Pose), Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose), lunges, and many hip openers. But the truth is, nearly any pose can be injurious if done carelessly.
Common causes of knee pain
Knee pain is a common complaint among individuals of all ages and can be caused by a variety of factors. Common causes of knee pain include overuse, injury, arthritis, and gout. Overuse of the knees can be caused by activities that involve repetitive motion, such as running or jumping, or the strain of carrying heavy weights. Arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, is the most common cause of knee pain, often characterized by stiffness, swelling, and pain. Gout is often caused by an accumulation of uric acid in the joint and can also lead to pain and swelling. Bursitis occurs when the sacs of fluid that cushion and lubricate the knee joint become inflamed. Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendons that attach muscle to the bone and can cause pain and difficulty with movement.
How to protect your knees in yoga
Whether you’ve experienced a meniscus tear, patellar bursitis, ACL strain, or other injury, a few simple asana guidelines can help. Ready to give your knees some love? Practice the following tips to protect your knees in yoga and help relieve pain and discomfort.
- Warm up.
Before engaging in any yoga pose that targets the knees, it’s important to properly warm up your body. Warming up your muscles and joints will help prepare them for the poses and help reduce the risk of injury. Practice a few sun salutations or other warming sequence to get your body ready for deeper and more challenging movements.
- Slow down. Pay attention. Breathe.
Humans are a visually oriented species, and all too often, we approach asana by “how it should look,” twisting knees out of alignment to strike a pose. Instead, practice from the inside out—how does it feel? Hone your internal awareness, learning to discern between deep stretch and pain, nerve signals and muscle signals, etc.
- Do not push, especially when in pain
When practicing yoga to alleviate knee pain, it is important to remember not to push too hard. It is tempting to try to stretch out and stretch the muscles around the knee as much as possible; however, this can actually be counterproductive. If you feel any pain when stretching, it is important to back off and take a break. Pushing too hard can cause further damage to the knee and surrounding muscles, so it is essential that you listen to your body and take it slow.
In yoga, knee injuries are often a result of hip tightness or misalignments of the foot or ankle. Though the knee is primarily a hinge joint, some of us have a fair amount of rotation at the knee due to bone shape or “lax” ligaments. This means we have to be extra careful not to overcompensate for tight hips by rotating or “torquing” the knees. Nowhere is this more important than in Padmasana (Lotus Pose), but the principles that teacher Susi Hately demonstrates in this video apply to other asanas as well. Even in asanas that don’t focus on the knees, it is still important to practice proper alignment of your knees to other parts of your body.
- Substitute or modify.
During class, trade tricky asanas for poses that are kinder to the knees. (You did inform your instructor about your injury before class, didn’t you?) Learn how to use props—rolled-up socks behind the knees in Virasana, for example, or folded blankets to align the hips appropriately before attempting seated poses. Props can be an effective way to modify poses and make them more accessible for those with knee pain. For example, chairs can help you reach poses with greater ease, allowing for a more gentle stretch. Blankets and blocks can provide extra support for your knees, allowing you to stay in poses for longer and reduce the strain on your joints. Furthermore, straps can help you to hold poses for an extended period of time, allowing for a deeper stretch.
- To prevent injuries, balance strengthening and stretching.
Most yogis savor the stretch, but a well-rounded asana practice also includes strengthening poses. A commonly underdeveloped muscle is the vastus medialis, the part of the quadriceps that lifts the kneecap. Swami Rama taught an exercise called Dancing Knees, simple joint movements good for warming up or strengthening.
- Don’t hyperextend.
When you hear a teacher say “lock the knees” (ouch!), understand this to mean “firm your knees.” It might feel as though your knees are ever-so-slightly flexed, but the supporting muscles are strong, and the kneecaps are lifted rather than pushed back.
- Be kind.
Finally, whether you are healing an acute injury or accommodating a chronic condition, practice ahimsa, the principle of non-harming, both on and off the mat. Think of your injury as an opportunity to explore more of yoga’s rich philosophy and practices. A sharp pain in the joint is a signal to stop immediately.
- Seek advice from a certified yoga teacher.
Seeking advice from a certified yoga instructor can be invaluable for those suffering from knee pain. A professional can provide tailored exercises and movements that are specific to individual needs. They can also provide guidance on how to properly perform the asanas and help with any modifications that may be required. A certified instructor can provide helpful advice on nutrition, lifestyle changes, and other tips to help manage knee pain.
Poses to strengthen the knees and relieve pain
There are specific yoga postures that can help to strengthen the knees and relieve pain. Whether you have chronic knee pain or just need a little extra support, these asanas can help you feel more comfortable and confident in your body. While some asanas may be more challenging for those with knee pain, it’s important to start with basic poses and progress slowly and cautiously. Practicing yoga regularly can help to reduce pain and improve mobility, allowing you to move with ease and confidence.
- Virasana (Hero Pose)
Virasana is one of the most beneficial seated yoga postures for the health of the knees, but it can also be harmful if not practiced carefully. This asana stretches the ankles, knees, hips, and thighs to reduce tightness and tension and improve the range of motion and proper functioning of the joint. It also improves circulation and helps to lubricate the joint, allowing for smoother movement and proper function.
- Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
Anjaneyasana strengthens the knees by increasing the strength of the quadriceps and stabilizing the joints. It helps to improve balance, focus and stability by strengthening the muscles of the legs, knees, ankles, hips, pelvis, and core. Low lunge is a great way to help improve the flexibility of the hips, leg muscles, and the knee joint. It also helps to open and strengthen the chest, shoulders, and upper back.
When practicing Anjaneyasana, it is important to keep the knee of the front bent leg aligned directly over the ankle at an 90-degree angle. Doing so helps keep the inner thigh and the knee in a supportive position and prevents any strain or injury. If the knee of the back bent leg is sensitive to pressure, a folded blanket or additional yoga mat can be placed under the knee to provide cushioning and support. Low lunge is a great alternative to High Lunge or Warrior I. You can advance to these more challenging asanas after you have built up your leg and core strength.
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
One of the most foundational standing positions, Tadasana reduces pain in the knees by strengthening and posture-correcting the muscles surrounding the knee joint. The pose requires the practitioner to stand tall and straight, with the hips, legs, and feet in line with the shoulders, allowing for an even distribution of weight and pressure in the knee joint. This even weight distribution helps reduce any pain or discomfort in the knee. Aligning and engaging the legs also helps to realign the patella and kneecap, which can reduce the pressure and strain on the knee joint.
- Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Utkatasana is a powerful yoga squat that, with regular practice, builds strength in the quadriceps and calves. This creates more support and stability to the knee joint, which helps to reduce pain, strain and injury. This pose can also help to stretch the hip flexors, which can reduce pressure on the knees. It’s a powerful strengthening pose, so take it easy at first and slowly extend your hold times to increase strength.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
This back-bending pose is an excellent lower body strengthening exercise that can help to reduce knee pain and improve flexibility. It helps to stretch the chest, neck, and spine, while simultaneously strengthening the buttocks, hamstrings, and back muscles. Bridge Pose lengthens and strengthens the muscles around the knee joint, which can help to relieve pain and tension. It helps to increase circulation in the knee joint, which can help promote healing. Bridge Pose helps to improve posture, which in turn can reduce the strain on the knees.
- Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Locust helps to strengthen and stretch the muscles of the back and legs, which can help ease knee pain by providing more support and stability to the area. It helps improve posture by strengthening the back and abdominal muscles. This improves alignment, stability, and balance when standing, which reduces stress and strain on the joints in the lower body. The pose can improve circulation in the lower body, bringing fresh oxygen to the muscles and ligaments in the knee joint.
- Ardha Apanasana (Supine Knee-to-Chest)
Supine knee-to-chest is a calming, gentle and beginner friendly asana that reduces knee pain, lower back pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, and menstrual pain. This pose works by improving the flexibility of the muscles around the knee joint and gently stretching the surrounding tendons and ligaments. This improves circulation, mobility and range of motion while reducing inflammation, tension and soreness.
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
This simple seated twist that can reduce stress in the knee joint by stretching the surrounding leg muscles and releasing tension. It helps to improve knee mobility, by increasing the flexibility and range of motion in the hips and low back. As the spine is twisted in this pose, it massages and compresses the abdominal organs, which improves circulation and helps to reduce inflammation.
- Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Vrksasana is an excellent balancing pose to improve balance and coordination while strengthening the legs, calves and ankles. This asana helps to increase blood flow to the knee and improve the overall function of the joint. It also helps to realign the vertebrae of the spine to improve posture and reduce strain and pain in the joints of the legs. Additionally, it helps to improve balance, stability and coordination, which can help prevent further knee issues and injury.
- Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2)
Warrior 2 is a common standing pose that strengthens the legs, hips, and knees to help relieve knee pain. It also increases balance, focus and concentration, and opens the chest and lungs. The strengthening of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles that result from practicing this pose stabilizes the knee joint and protects the knee joint from excessive force, which helps to reduce the risk of knee injuries.
- Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III)
Warrior III is a powerful, challenging and effective balancing pose to provide relief for those suffering from arthritis, tendonitis, and other forms of knee pain. By engaging and strengthening the muscles around the knee, it reduces strain on the knee joint. Additionally, this asana helps to improve flexibility in the hips and spine, which also helps to improve knee alignment and reduce knee pain. Practicing this asana can help increase focus and concentration, as well as improve balance, which can help prevent injury.
Best Yoga Videos for Knee Pain
We’ve complied the top five best videos of yoga routines specifically designed to address knee pain. Each of these videos will provide you with an effective, safe way to build strength, stretch those tight muscles, and reduce inflammation.
To ensure you are performing the poses correctly, watch each video through once before you begin. Remember to take it slow and listen to your body. If you experience any pain or discomfort during your practice, stop and take some time to rest and modify the pose as needed.
These videos are a great way to start your journey towards a healthy, pain-free life. So grab your yoga mat, clear a space in your living room, and get ready to start feeling better today!
Knee Yoga Therapy by Yoginimelbourne
This 25 minute video focuses on strengthening and stretching the muscles around your knees. You’ll want to have a few props to fully take part in this practice: a yoga block, towel or blanket, and bolster.
Yoga for Sensitive Knees by Yoga With Adriene
This 30 minute practice targets the full body without putting any pressure on the knees. You will need a blanket, bolster, or towel and, optionally a block. You will build strength and stability for the knees while deepening awareness and ease.
Yoga to Strengthen + Soothe Your Knee Pain by Yoga with Allie Van Fossen
This 46-minute video focuses on soothing and strengthening the knee using clear and detailed alignment. Two yoga blocks, a strap and a blanket are recommended to fully participate in the practice. The class starts on the back and progresses up to standing about half-way through, and ends with a seated meditation.
Deep Stretch Therapy for Knee Pain Relief by YOGATX
This 20-minute yoga session is specifically tailored to help ease any pain in the knees. This deep stretch session begins standing with simple strength building exercises, and finished up on the floor with a series of leg and hip stretches.
Yoga for Knee Pain Relief by Yoga with Yana
This 15-minute class for knee pain relief is calming, gentle and slow, allowing you to drop deep into the asanas. The entire practice is done seated and on your back, so it is a great class for beginners to follow along with. A yoga strap is recommended.
Everyone’s body is unique and different, so please consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before you start any new yoga practice. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a medical condition and is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Yoga can be a great way to ease knee pain and enhance the mobility of the joints but it can also be harmful if not done if done improperly or without proper guidance. Before embarking on any yoga practice, it is important to consult with a medical professional to ensure that the poses are appropriate for the individual’s needs. It is also important to take care to avoid positions that could cause further harm.