If a person has chronic knee pain, yoga practice may be able to help. The knee is the largest joint in the body. It is extremely complex and one of the keys to mobility. It is also prone to deterioration and injury due to its many parts and heavy use.
Yoga is a mind-body wellness practice involving physical poses, breathing practices, and concentration. If a person has knee pain, yoga may help decrease pain and stiffness, improve mobility, and strengthen the leg muscles.
This article will explain the benefits of yoga for knee pain, as well as which yoga poses can help and which to avoid. It will also detail overall yoga best practices.
Yoga is a low impact activity that puts minimal pressure on the knees. It can strengthen the muscles and promote flexibility without requiring the impact of activities such as aerobic exercise or running.
Although yoga may help lessen knee pain, it will probably not heal any underlying condition. For that, a person will need to consult a medical professional, especially if pain results from injury or a medical condition.
Dr. Hansaji Yogendra, director of The Yoga Institute, has several videos on YouTube about knee pain and yoga. The Yoga Institute, located in Mumbai, India, is a nonprofit organization and the oldest organized yoga center in the world, founded in 1918.
Dr. Yogendra says in her video “The Best Yoga Remedies for Knee Pain” that yoga can help reduce chronic knee pain if done correctly and combined with wellness practices such as:
- maintaining good posture
- eating a healthy diet
- maintaining a moderate weight
- getting regular exercise
- taking walking breaks from seated work
- practicing relaxation techniques
Research agrees with the soothing power of yoga. One
Dr. Yogendra recommends four basic asanas to promote relaxation and strengthen leg muscles to relieve knee stress. The poses are in the Yoga Poses collection in the Yoga Journal.
For knee pain, Dr. Yogendra suggests doing this pose lying down rather than upright as in the standard version. This avoids putting pressure on the knees by standing.
- Lie on the back, legs extended and arms alongside the body.
- Inhale and lift one leg as far upright as is comfortable. At the same time, lift the arm on the same side upright at a right angle to the body. The arm and the leg should be parallel to each other, instead of the hand reaching the big toe, as in the standing version.
- Hold the breath and keep the leg and arm lifted for 5–10 seconds.
- Exhale and lower the leg slowly to the floor and the arm back to the side.
- Repeat with the other leg.
After lifting each leg upward, extend the leg across the body to the side at a 90-degree angle to the body. Turn the head carefully to the other side, creating a slight body twist. Try to keep both shoulders on the floor.
- Lie on the back and stretch the body. Point the fingers and toes outward while doing so.
- Inhale, hold the breath, and keep this stretched position for 5–6 seconds.
- Exhale and return to the starting position.
- Stand upright with hands at the sides and shoulders relaxed. Place the feet slightly apart and parallel.
- Lift the right arm forward and then upward toward the ceiling. For knee pain, Dr. Yogendra suggests keeping the feet stationary on the ground instead of lifting on the toes as in the standard pose.
- Hold the breath for 5 seconds while holding this position.
- Resume the start position by lowering the arm, keeping it straight, and rotating it backward and down.
- Repeat with the other arm.
- Lie on the back, separating the legs slightly.
- Put the arms alongside the body but not touching it. Turn palms upward.
- Tuck the shoulder blades under the back for support.
- Breathe naturally and deeply for a minimum of 5 minutes.
- When ready to come out of the pose, put the arms over the head and stretch the body.
- Roll over to the side, bring the knees up to the chest, and rest for several seconds.
- Come into a sitting position.
It is just as important to avoid yoga poses that could cause injury to the knees as it is to practice beneficial ones. Yoga can help knee pain, but a person must be careful to avoid positions that are overly taxing on the knees.
Poses could potentially injure the knees if they involve:
- bending the knees
- placing the knees in awkward positions
- putting pressure on the knees by prolonged standing or kneeling
A person may want to avoid the following poses if they have knee pain:
- Camel Pose
- Triangle Pose
- Lotus Pose
- Child’s Pose
- Pigeon Pose
There are many types of yoga. For knee pain, Hatha yoga and Iyengar yoga are easy on the body. Restorative yoga is also a gentle style that often uses props, which can help a person sustain the right form without stressing the knee joints.
Yin yoga may be another good choice. It is a slow-paced, meditative form of yoga. It allows time for the person to feel the effects of the poses on both body and mind. The poses also held for longer, allowing for good stretches.
It may be best to avoid the “yang” yoga styles that are more athletic and fast-paced. Some examples include:
- Vinyasa yoga
- Power yoga
- Ashtanga yoga
If a person has knee pain, they are probably concerned about how to practice yoga without causing injury.
Here are some tips for keeping the knees safe while improving knee pain.
- Consult an expert first: Whether a person is new to yoga or a longtime practitioner, they should consider consulting a qualified yoga teacher, physical therapist, professional trainer, or medical professional for guidance.
- Consider using props: Props can help relieve pressure on the knees during certain poses, which can help prevent injury. They can be put under the knees for support or, in the case of a strap, guide the limbs into a carefully stretched position.
- Add heat: A warm bottle or compress can help soothe joint or muscle pain. Consider stretching or doing some easy walking to warm up before yoga practice.
- Do not push through the pain: Yoga should not hurt. If a person feels pain, they should back off from the pose. Adjust the position, perhaps with props, until there is no pain.
- Take time, and do not overdo it: Even in a class, it is important for a person to know their limits and go at their own pace, even if it is slower than the others.
If a person experiences chronic knee pain, yoga may be able to help regain some of the strength, flexibility, and mobility. It is best to consult a medical professional before beginning a new yoga practice.
It is also a good idea to consult a yoga trainer or physical therapist to give guidance on what poses to do and what ones to avoid. They can help a person learn to do the poses correctly without injury.