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How to Protect Your Knees During Yoga Class

How to Protect Your Knees During Yoga Class

Reading Time: 5 minutes 15 seconds

BY: ISSA

DATE: 2024-02-29


Knee pain is unfortunately common, affecting about 25% of U.S. adults. (1) The knee is a complicated joint that bears a lot of weight. Injuries and arthritis are common causes of knee pain, which often limits mobility and activities. 

If you have knee pain or an ongoing joint condition or injury, talk to your doctor before practicing yoga and other types of exercise. If you don’t have knee pain, it’s still helpful to practice yoga with your knees in mind. Use good practices that protect these vital joints. 

Can Yoga Practice Benefit the Knees? 

Yes, practicing yoga safely, and if ok’d by your doctor, can actually be good for your knees. First, yoga is a low-impact activity. Low-impact exercises allow you to build strength and elevate your heart rate without putting extra pressure on your joints. These are some additional benefits:

  • Yoga improves flexibility throughout the body, including in the muscles and connective tissue around the knee joints. 

  • Improving flexibility boosts mobility in the knees, making it easier to do other activities. 

  • Yoga uses body weight to strengthen muscles, including those that support the knee joint and help it operate efficiently and safely. 

  • Studies have found that regular yoga practice can reduce pain and stiffness and improve mobility and quality of life in people with knee osteoarthritis. (2, 3)

If you’re a runner, you probably think about knee health a lot. Yoga can help you reduce knee injury risks and improve your runs. Here are the best poses for runners

Learn How to Protect Your Knees During Yoga 

While yoga can benefit your knee joints, it can also cause damage or harm or worsen pain and injuries if you don’t do it right. Learning how to protect your knees and practice yoga safely will lower your risk of injuries and strengthen and support this important joint. 

Check out these general tips for supporting healthy knees and preventing knee injuries

Talk to the Instructor

If you take a yoga class with a live instructor, talk to them about your concerns. This is especially important if you already have knee issues. Tell them if you have sensitive knees, arthritis, an injury, or undiagnosed knee pain. 

An experienced, certified yoga instructor can help you protect your knees during class and whenever you do yoga. They can provide you with tips and form modifications that make poses safer and less likely to cause harm or additional pain. 

An experienced instructor should also be able to tell you if you should not be practicing yoga right now or if there are specific poses to avoid. If they think you might do further harm to your knee, they might recommend you see your doctor before continuing. 

Practice Proper Alignment

If you are ok to practice yoga, following the correct form for doing asanas, or poses, is one of the best ways to protect your knees. This includes good alignment of the knees during both standing and sitting poses:

  • Your knee should line up with your foot in standing poses, so that they are both pointing in the same direction. Look at your knees to ensure they do not track or rotate inward or outward. 

  • Keeping the knee aligned and to avoid twisting it requires quadriceps strength, so be sure you engage these big leg muscles during standing poses. 

  • When doing poses that require you to bend at the knee, don’t let it shift too far forward. It should remain stacked over your ankle. 

  • In poses that involve opening the hips, it’s easy to twist at the knee. Avoid this by focusing on the hip joint. If you feel your knees are taking over, go less deeply into the pose as you develop more mobility in the hips. 

Follow Your Feet

A major part of safe alignment involves the feet, so it’s worth paying attention to them when doing poses. When doing poses that require a bend and might stress the knee, it helps to flex the foot. This forces engagement in lower leg muscles that help keep the knee in better alignment and reduces rotation. 

In poses in which you externally rotate the hip, such as pigeon pose, a different foot position is useful. Extend the foot and flex the toes. This is called a floint. It can help stabilize the knee joint when the leg is in this externally rotated position by engaging the right muscles.  

Build Mobility in Your Hip Joint

Your hip joints affect how you use your knees. Poor mobility in the hip joint forces the knee to compensate during certain movements and poses. This compensation can cause unsafe rotations of the knee. 

Hip tightness is a common modern problem because we tend to spend a lot of the day sitting. You can improve hip mobility and flexibility by standing more. If you work at a desk, use a standing option and take frequent breaks to get up and walk around.  

Do hip stretches and incorporate more yoga poses that open the hips. Good options include butterfly stretch, high and low lunge, and bound angle and reclined bound angle pose. For more advanced moves, try pigeon pose, lizard pose, and twisted monkey.

Use Modifications and Props

If certain poses make your knees feel funny, or even hurt, modifications and props can help. In some cases, you might want to skip poses entirely, but small changes might be enough to allow you to do them safely. 

  • Avoid completely flexing your knees in positions like hero pose by placing a bolster or rolled towel behind the knees. 

  • Elevate the pelvis and support the knees limited hip mobility that causes your knees to rotate in poses like bound angle. Sit on a towel or block and place blocks under your knees. 

  • Elevating your pelvis is a useful modification for almost any seated pose. 

  • Avoid placing your knees directly on the floor. You can use a thick yoga mat or piece of foam, or even a towel, to provide cushioning to protect the kneecap in poses like cat and cow. 

  • Support proper knee alignment in poses like forward bends or chair pose by placing a block between your legs. This helps keep the knees over the middle toes. 

  • When doing a standing yoga pose, avoid locking your knees. Keep a small bend to reduce pressure on the joints. 

Listen to Your Body

Perhaps the most effective way to protect your knees in anything you do is to listen to them. If a yoga pose causes you discomfort or pain, stop and reevaluate it. Mild discomfort is not usually a concern, but it might be a sign that your form or alignment are off. 

If a certain pose causes too much pain or just doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If your knees feel like they need a break, have a rest day. 

Yoga After Knee Surgery

Many people get relief from knee pain and dysfunction through surgery, including full knee replacements. These procedures have become very common, safe, and effective. But can you do yoga again? 

This is a question best answered by your surgeon. They will provide you with a complete recovery plan and timeline, including what you can and cannot do. It’s also important to talk about limitations and prohibitions before choosing surgery. This is important to know before making a decision about knee replacement. 

Many people eventually return to yoga practice after knee procedures but with extra precautions and limitations. Follow your surgeon’s guidelines, take it slowly, and use modifications and props as necessary to protect your new knee. 

Build Your Knowledge with Yoga Teacher Training

Making yoga safe for participants is an important skill for instructors. The ISSA’s Yoga Alliance-approved 200-hour teacher training program has everything you need to get started safely and effectively leading others through a rewarding yoga practice.  

References

  1. Bunt, C. W., Jonas, C. E., & Chang, J. G. (2018, November 1). Knee pain in adults and adolescents: The initial evaluation. American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2018/1101/p576.html 

  2. Kolasinski, S. L., Garfinkel, M., Tsai, A. G., Matz, W., Dyke, A. V., & Schumacher, H. R. (2005). Iyengar yoga for treating symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knees: A pilot study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(4), 689–693. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2005.11.689 

Deepeshwar, S., Tanwar, M., Kavuri, V., & Budhi, R. B. (2018). Effect of yoga based lifestyle intervention on patients with knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00180

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