A friend I knew in primary school was an excellent soccer player. She was the star of the team — defending shots, making passes, and scoring with ease. One day, she tore her ACL and had to have surgery. She couldn’t play soccer again for some time.
Not everyone’s story is as extreme as my classmate’s. Many people have mild or chronic knee pain. Many of us have a friend or relative who has had both knees replaced or has difficulty walking for long periods of time due to pain in the knees.
Yoga can help manage knee pain by stretching and strengthening weak, overworked knees. This article will detail why knee health is so important and what yoga poses will help keep your knees happy and healthy for a happy and healthy life.
Why The Knee Is So Important
The knee is the largest and most complex joint in the human body. It is the reason we can bend our lower legs backward and rotate the lower legs. Without the knee, normal movements we make everyday would become extremely difficult or impossible.
The knee isn’t made up of a simple joint. Bones, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and tendons all help the knees provide support for the body and allow us to walk, run, jump, and turn.
Your knee is covered by a firm, elastic layer of cartilage that allows the joint to move easily. Since the cartilage doesn’t have blood vessels, it absorbs nutrients like a sponge. During compression, waste products from the cells are squeezed outward. During relaxation, nutrients can go inward.
Two ligaments in the center of the knee joint are responsible for keeping the joint stable and allowing it to have a full range of motion. You’ve probably heard of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) which my classmate tore, but the less famous posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is equally as important. The two ligaments cross each other, forming an X across the knee, to allow the knee to extend and flex.
A ligament is a soft tissue that connects bones. The ACL and the PCL are the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee. Both the ACL and the PCL connect your thigh bone to your shin bone. The ACL frequently gets stretched or torn by sudden twisting or other movements, while the PCL is typically injured in a direct impact such as a car accident. It is proven that women are two to eight times more likely to suffer from ACL injuries than men.
The knee must not only be flexible, to allow us to walk and bend, but also stable, to allow us to stand. That’s a lot to ask of one joint! It’s no wonder that we know so many people with knee problems or who have even had their knees replaced.
How A Sedentary Lifestyle Affects The Knees
With TV, modern conveniences, and office work being a major part of our daily lives, our society as a whole is moving less and less.
Resting is important, and we never want to overwork our joints. But a completely sedentary lifestyle is just as dangerous for the knees as it is for other parts of the body.
A sedentary lifestyle commonly leads to obesity, which increases pain in weight-bearing joints such as the knees. It’s important to keep active and move the knees often to decompress and stretch them, even if it may seem easier and more convenient to stay on the couch.
Why Many People Have Knee Problems
There are many ways we damage our knees in our daily lives. Overstretching the knees, for example, makes them unstable, and twisting and side bending can also lead to knee problems.
A common issue is the meniscus becoming frail. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts like a pad between the thigh bone and the shin bone. Each knee actually has two menisci, one that supports the inner side of the joint and one the outer. If the knee is twisted while bearing weight, the meniscus may tear.
Have you ever encountered a sharp pain in the knee when getting up too quickly from a squatting position or lifting too much weight? That’s your meniscus.
Do you want to get stronger knees? Practice with me!
If the padding in your knee joint is damaged, the knee becomes unstable and problems may arise. Your knee can develop a hotspot for chronic pain, particularly osteoarthritis.
The knee can carry one and a half tons of weight — but being overweight places even more weight on the knee. According to Susan Bartlett, being overweight increases stress on the knee and could possibly hasten the breakdown of cartilage.
Did you know that regular walking places additional weight on the knees too? No wonder people with arthritic knees find it hard to walk for a long stretch of time. A force of nearly three to six times one’s body weight is exerted across the knee while walking. Any increase in body weight increases the force by this amount as well.
The wearing away of knee cartilage is the major cause of arthritis in the knee. The tissue wears out, and a sudden movement that strains the knee may cause it to tear. This consequently may lead to chronic and acute knee inflammation — redness, heat, swelling, and pain.
Hip Flexibility Tightly Connected With Knee Flexibility
It’s not intuitive, but hip flexibility is tightly connected with knee flexibility. The hip is a major weight-bearing joint in the body with many ligaments and muscles attached that add stability to the hip and control leg motion.
The gluteus medius, for example, a muscle in the back and side of the hips. It allows for external thigh rotation and keeps the pelvis level, and is particularly important when it comes to knee health and flexibility.
Injury or tightness in the hip flexor muscles (in the front of the hips) can cause weakness in the gluteus medius and other external hip rotators. Weak or tight external hip rotators, however, cause the thighs to rotate and pull inward abnormally, which puts excessive strain and stress on your knee joint and kneecap. We develop “K-legs.”
One of my clients who suffers from this phenomenon, and as a consequence developed osteoarthritis in her knees AND hips, told me that when she was younger she used to have relatively straight legs. She was surprised to find that the shape of her legs had changed over time.
Knock-knees and bow legs are not mere cosmetic phenomena but common issues that can be caused by an imbalance in the hip abductors (group of muscles that externally rotate the hip) and the hip adductors (group of muscles of the hip that help draw your thighs toward each other).
Because of the tight connectivity of the hips and the knees, you’ll want to make sure that your hips are fully open before attempting poses requiring knee flexibility. For example, in lotus pose where we sit cross-legged on the floor, hip flexibility is necessary first before you can twist the knee safely.
Yoga Therapy For Healthy Knees
Whether you have weak knees, knee pain, or just want to keep your knees healthy and strong, yoga can help. In yoga, we teach healthy movement patterns to stabilize the knee.
We aim at treating the knee as a hinge joint which helps improve the good health of your knees and prevent crunchy knees. Also, yoga therapy in particular helps rebalance your body by strengthening weak muscles and stretching the ones that are tight.
For a worn out knee, the stretching and decompressing in various yoga poses helps stabilize the joint. For someone with osteoarthritis, yoga allows your knee to constantly move.
A study by the US National Library of Medicine found that when women with knee osteoarthritis did three sixty-minute sessions of hatha yoga per week for eight weeks, pain and symptoms were significantly decreased and scores of daily activities, sports, and quality of life were significantly increased. The study concluded that yoga can be used as treatment to improve the condition of osteoarthritis.
Healthy legs, especially strong and flexible hamstrings (muscle group at the back of the thigh) and quads (large muscle group on the front of the thighs), support healthy knees. When the legs are strong, they help bear the body’s weight rather than allowing it all to fall to the knee joints.
Yoga Sequence For Healthy Knees
This is a yoga sequence you can do for healthy knees. If you have chronic knee pain, it helps you decompress the knees.
Even with chronic knee pain, one exercise anyone can do is to sit on a chair with one foot on the ground and rock the calf back and forth. Do this 10-20 times, and then switch legs. Especially with osteoarthritis in the knees, this simple exercise helps decompress and lubricate the knee. It can be done for a few moments anywhere, whether you’re on the bus or at the office.
Practice it with me.
If you have the time for a few more poses, there are four yoga poses I recommend to help keep your knees healthy, happy, and strong. Whatever your needs, whether preventing knee problems or regaining strength and flexibility, practicing these poses can help.
Pose #1: Lying On Stomach Straight Leg Raise
Lay flat on the stomach. You can rest a pillow under your head or your hips if you’d like to make the position more comfortable. Make sure your neck and shoulders are relaxed, and invite the in-breath into your chest. Keeping the legs straight, on your exhale lift one leg about a foot off the ground. Be sure to keep both hips on the ground and do not turn your body. Stay here for about 5-10 breaths, and exhale from the waist into the legs. Then repeat on the other side.
This pose helps strengthen the hamstrings to support the knees.
Pose #2: Bridge Pose
Now please turn over.
Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and heels within reach of your fingertips. If possible, gently shrug the shoulders under the back to protect the neck. Then, on an inhale, begin to lift the buttocks off the floor. You can clasp your hands beneath your pelvis to help you stay on top of your shoulders and protect your neck.
Continue lifting the buttocks until the thighs are parallel to the floor. If you find that difficult, simply lift the buttocks as high as possible. Your knees should be directly over the heels. Stay in the pose for at least five to ten long, deep breaths, and then slowly release on an exhale, gently rolling the spine down onto the mat. Please remember to breathe normally.
For a gentler variation, you can try a bridge flow. On your inhale, slowly lift into bridge pose. As you exhale, gently roll down through the spine until your back is flat on the mat. Repeat this flow, following your breath, for at least ten cycles.
This pose helps strengthen and stretch both the hips and the legs to prevent crunchy knees!
Pose #3: Upward Extended Foot Pose Variation (Urdhva Prasarita Padasana)
From bridge pose, keep your feet flat on the mat. On your inhale, please lift your arms overhead. On your exhale, use both hands to pull the right thigh towards the chest.
On your inhale, lift the arms overhead again and lift the right leg vertical. Straighten the right leg and lift the heel toward the ceiling. If the knee hurts, keep the knee soft and take care not to lock it. On your exhale, use both hands once more to pull the right thigh towards the chest. Please repeat this five to ten times. On your final exhale, please release the leg and arms. Then repeat this flow on the left side of your body.
Upward Extended Foot Pose strengthens the legs and deep buttocks muscles, both of which we have shown are important for healthy, strong knees.
Pose #4: Savasana
Lay down flat on the back and begin to stretch the legs out long. Allow the arms to fall loosely to your sides, about even with the hips, and find a comfortable resting pose. It’s important that the body be in a neutral position. For additional knee support, you can gently bend the knees and slide a bolster or a bigger pillow underneath them.
Stay in savasana for about five minutes to allow your body to reap the benefits of the physical exercises. This pose calms the brain, relaxes the physical body, and helps relieve stress and mild depression.
Want more? Let’s practice together.
The knees are critical to the overall health of one’s body. The knee is the largest and most complex joint in the human body. We rely on our knees to allow us to run, jump, play, and do the things we love the most in life. Our lifestyle impacts the health of our knees. As we have shown, hip and leg strength and flexibility are important in supporting healthy, strong knees.
Knock-knees and bow legs are not mere cosmetic phenomena but are common issues that can be caused by an imbalance in the hip muscles. Yoga helps improve osteoarthritis in the knees.
If you are in pain, the best therapy for your knees is to decompress. Gentle stretches and breathing techniques may help you relax and decompress the knees.
Do you have weak, crunchy knees? Do you want to help your knees?
Are you looking for exercises that work your muscles without hurting your knees?
Does this sound familiar?
I do personalized healthy yoga. Let me help you with a healthy yoga sequence customized to you! Click here for your online quiz. What do you have to lose except your pain?
Info about Me
I’m Chi. I’ve always been passionate about healing and empowerment.
I work as a catalyst for personal transformation. I help you explore the best version of yourself, and yoga is a fantastic tool to accomplish that goal. I am a certified yoga therapist and a classically trained jazz vocalist, and I hold a Ph.D. in Communications. I look forward to practicing with you!
Bartlett, Susan. Role of Body Weight in Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis: Role of body weight in Osteoathritis – Weight management. [Accessed February 2017]
Ghasemi, Gholam A.; Golkar, Ainaz; M; Marandi, Sayyd M. Effects of Hata Yoga on Knee Osteoarthritis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665019/. [Accessed February 2017]
Hip Weakness May Contribute to Knee Pain. https://www.verywell.com/hip-weakness-may-contribute-to-knee-pain-2696375. [Accessed February 2017]
Johnson, J. S.; Morscher, M. A.; Jones, K. C.; Moen, S. M.; Klonk, C. J.; Jacquet, R.; Landis, W. J. Gene expression differences between ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments in young male and female subjects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25568397. [Accessed February 2017]
Keller, Doug. Yoga Therapy for Your Knees. https://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-therapy-for-your-knees1. [Accessed February 2017]
Kozak, Sandra Summerfield. A Holistic Approach for Relieving Osteoarthritis. https://yogainternational.com/article/view/a-holistic-approach-for-relieving-osteoarthritis. [Accessed February 2017]