Article credit Mathew Foster
Did you know that knee pain is one of the most common causes of chronic pain in America, with more than one third of people in this country suffering from it? Fortunately, there is a way out. In this article we teach you how yoga of all things can help you deal with knee pain, both preventing and helping you recover from injuries to this crucial joint.
Typical causes of knee pain include injury to a ligament like your ACL, weak hamstrings or quadricep muscles, or chronic conditions like arthritis. Perhaps more than anything it is our sedentary lifestyles that tend to weaken the leg muscles and make the knees more susceptible to injury. When your quadriceps for example are weak and under-developed, there arises a misalignment between your knee and the thighbone or femur, in which your knee fails to track properly and is pulled to the side. This sideways force weakens and wears away the cartilage supporting your knee.
Yoga, meanwhile, is about mindfulness and deliberate, thoughtful action. By training you to learn to pay attention to your body and what you're doing NOW, yoga therapy can help you become aware of the leg muscles that need work and provides you with the poses needed to strengthen them. It is also a great way of becoming aware of leg misalignment issues (another source of knee trouble), and correcting these. Here are the best yoga poses for your knees and how to do them:
Chair Pose: stand with your legs together and lift your chest, then sit down and back - as though you were going to sit in a chair. Keep the majority of your weight in your heels, and meanwhile raise your arms up through the fingers. Repeat 10 times a day, several days per week. The benefit of this move is that your weight is borne by your hip sockets thus ensuring your knees don't inch out beyond your toes. In addition, this pose strengthens your hips, thighs, hamstrings, and calves, thus making the knees work better as well.
Bridge Pose: Lie flat on your back, face up. Bend the knees, keeping your feet on the ground shoulder width apart. Make sure you arms stay down at your sides as well. Then squeeze your glutes, and push THROUGH the heels lifting the body off the ground until you rest on your shoulders only. Doing this exercise will strengthen your hamstrings and your glutes.
Peaceful Warrior: in this pose, stand with your left foot pointing forward, your right TOES turned 90 degrees, and with your arms out, palms faced upwards. Bend the left knee as if lunging. Place your right hand on your right leg, and arch backwards, reaching up over and back with your left arm. Your head should end up turned towards the ceiling. Repeat several times, then switch legs. This pose should activate and strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Again, all muscles that help keep your knees in top shape.
High Lunge: stand up straight, then step back with your right foot, as though doing a deep lunge, bending your left leg to 90 degrees. Raise your arms straight up and look directly ahead. Relax, and repeat with the other leg. Doing this pose, strengthens your quads, calves and glutes, all muscle groups that support and stabilize the knees.
Eagle Pose: Stand up straight, bending the knees and wrapping your left leg over the right, balancing yourself on your right foot. Wrap the thighs tightly on top of one another. You can wrap the arms the same way if you want and are able to. If you are having difficulties balancing, use a chair or wall for extra support. Again, hold for about 10 seconds before releasing. Repeat several times, before performing the pose with the other leg. The perks of this pose? By wrapping the legs, you work your inner thighs as well a your calves, two muscles groups which help to support and stabilize your knees.
Staff pose (dandasana): this is a good pose for correcting any misalignment issues in your knees. This occurs when the inner quadricep muscles are weak and undeveloped compared to the outer quads, so that when standing 'straight', your knee actually gets pulled to the side. Sit straight against a wall, you legs extended forward. Rotate the left leg out, 15 degrees. Put your fingers above the inner side of your kneecap, then wander upward towards the inner thigh. Straighten out your leg, and feel the quadriceps contract. Release after about 10 seconds. Repeat several times before switching legs. Then do the exercise again, but without rotating the leg. Again, see how well you can engage the inner quadricep muscles in this pose. Observe also the way your kneecap moves right down the middle of the joint when your quads engaged in a balanced way, rather than the knee being pulled to the outside.
Trikonasana: here's another one you can use to check if your knee is properly aligned, or if it's being pulled to the outside when standing straight. Stand, feet width apart, and turn your right foot in 45 degrees, whilst your left leg goes out 90 degrees. Bend your left knee ever so slightly, aligning the hip, knee and heel as much as possible. Then mindfully straighten-up your leg, engaging the inner quads. If you’re doing it right, the kneecap will draw up your leg in a straight line - you will find it is impossible to lock up or hyperextend it. You shouldn't experience any pressure in your knee either; that means you've relaxed the inner quad muscles. Feel with your hand to see that this muscle is firm. You should feel a stretching sensation along the inside of your thigh as well. Again, repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Knee health is crucial no matter what physical activities you prefer. Even if you are just getting into working out, you should be thinking about the health of your knees. And by performing the aforementioned exercises, and mindfully paying attention to what the different parts of your body are doing, you can keep your knees healthy, overcome those muscular imbalances that are responsible for chronic knee pain and injury and eliminate the possibility that you might need to start wearing knee pads for basketball, running or any other sport, to keep you active and pain-free.