Your knees are arguably the hardest working joints in your body. Not only do they support the weight of our body in a variety of pounding movements, they also help propel us through our daily lives. With so much literal (and figurative) pressure applied to the knees, the possibility of injury or knee pain is high. Likewise, because we ask so much of them, knees can become painful as various parts of the joint and surrounding structures begin to wear out. Yoga for knee pain can address pain that arises as a result of improper use or pain that is a result of simple wear-and-tear over time. Here’s what you should know.
Is yoga good for knee pain?
Yoga for knee pain can be a safe and effective practice that addresses a variety of issues that arise in the knee. Contrary to what it sounds like, yoga for knees (and hips) also often works the areas around the knee. This is all to do with the anatomy of your legs.
The knee joint connects four main bones: the thigh bone, shin bone, fibula, and kneecap. These bones are stabilized by medial and lateral collateral ligaments on each side and the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments that prevent the knee from sliding forward and back.
Additionally, cartilage inside the knee joint prevents the bones from rubbing together. The meniscus and articular cartilage act as shock absorbent bone protectors.
Just as the ligaments connect the bones to each other, tendons connect and stabilize bones to the muscles. The four basic muscle groups that surround the knee include:
- Quadriceps (knee extensors)
- Hamstrings (knee flexors)
- Hip adductors (inner thighs)
- Hip abductors (outer thighs)
Many people who experience knee pain that is due to inflamed or sore tendons may find significant relief with yoga for knee pain that exercises and balances these four muscles groups. For example, the outer thighs in most people tend to be stronger and more developed than the inner thighs. This may cause significant pulling on the kneecap to the outside of its true alignment, causing inflammation due to overstretched tendons or even bone-on-bone rubbing.
Yoga for knee pain can also help balance the pull of each muscle group, strengthening their support of the knee, while increasing overall range of motion in the joint.
Should I do yoga if my knee hurts?
When your knees hurt with every step, you may stop moving. After all, if movement hurts, you should avoid it, right?
While it’s always crucial to talk to your doctor before beginning any new type of exercise, safe movement is typically incredibly beneficial for sore joints, including the knees. Regular exercises increase the lubrication in the joint, strengthen and lengthen tendons, and improve range of motion.
In the case of acute injury, it’s best to follow any of your doctor’s instructions for a period of rest. There are times when complete inactivity is necessary to give your body time to rest and restore itself. Once you get the all-clear, yoga poses for knee joint pain can be gradually added, making modifications as needed to keep you safe.
If the cause of your knee pain is arthritis, yoga can be practiced with a qualified teacher to the level that’s feels good to you. For severe pain, chair yoga is a great place to start (more on that below!).
9 gentle yoga for knee pain poses
Always talk to your doctor before starting yoga, and if you are taking a class, let your yoga teacher know about your knee pain beforehand. They can help with modifications when needed.
As always, if you experience sharp, stabbing pain or cannot catch your breath, back out of the pose and take a break. Consider taking a gentler modification if you try it again.
Here are nine yoga poses for knee pain, from least to most intense.
1. Joint warm up
Yoga for hip and knee pain often starts with range of motion exercises, and this is a good way to start a home practice.
Lie on your back, both legs extended. Inhale and bend your right knee towards your chest. Hold your right knee with your right hand and begin to make circles with the hip, in both directions. You can make these circles as big or small as feels good.
Take time to circle your ankle, too, before lowering the right leg and repeating the circles with your left leg.
Unlike the standing version, reclined hand-to-big-toe pose gently lengthens hamstrings and safely stretches tendons and ligaments.
Lie on your back, legs extended long. Use a strap to loop around the ball of your right foot. Inhale, and on an exhale, lift the leg (the strap can help) to the ceiling. Keep both of your feet flexed.
Breathe here for a few breaths, gently stretching the hamstrings, then place your left hand on your left hip to remind it to stay rooted to the ground as you exhale and allow your right leg to open to the right. Only go as far as you can keep the left hip rooted to the ground. Take ten deep breaths, then use the right inner thigh muscles to guide the leg back to center. Lower, then switch legs.
3. Low lunge
Low lunges stretch the hip flexors and can release pressure on the hamstrings.
Start from all fours. Use a blanket to pad the knees if you are feeling discomfort. Step your right foot forward between the hands. You can use blocks underneath your hand on any level if you need more space in the right hip crease. Make sure the right knee is directly above the right ankle.
Keeping your back toes tucked, lift the back knee and move your foot backward until you feel a stretch in the left hip flexor (the space on the front of your leg above the hamstring). Place the knee back down and breathe in this pose for five to ten breaths. You can bring your hands to your right thigh if you feel comfortable, or inhale them over your head for more of a balancing challenge.
Switch sides and repeat.
Sciatica is a type of pain that can travel down to the knee. Even if the knee joint isn’t the cause of your pain, this simple, soothing twist can help.
Extend both legs in front of you. Bend the right knee and cross it over the left so that the right foot is on the floor next to your left hip. You can leave the left leg extended or bend it, but if your sitting bones come off the ground when you bend it, keep it extended.
Hug the right knee into your chest, then inhale and lift your right arm above you, twisting from the torso to place the right hand on the ground behind you. Keep a tall spine as you keep the left hand hugging the right knee. Take five to ten deep breaths, then inhale to return back to center. Extend both legs long and repeat on the other side.
5. Bridge pose
Use a block in this pose between the upper thighs to increase strength and bring balance to the muscles of the legs.
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet hips-width distance apart. Heels should be about a handprint away from your hips. Place the block between your upper thighs. Bend your elbows and allow your palms to face each other across your body.
On an inhale, press into your feet and the backs of your upper arms to lift your hips to the sky. Press the roundest part of the back of your head into the mat to maintain space behind your neck. Hold for five to ten breaths, then lower slowly on an exhale. Repeat two times.
6. Chair pose
Chair pose strengthens the quad muscles, glutes, and hamstrings to support the knee.
Standing tall, bring your feet together (or keep them slightly apart if that is more comfortable). Bring hands together at the heart, palms touching, on an inhale.
As you exhale, sink your hips back behind you like you are sitting in a chair. Your toes should be clearly visible in front of your knees. Take ten deep breaths, then stand up on an inhale and shake out your legs.
7. Warrior II
Focus on safe alignment for this pose to improve strength.
Step wide on your mat, feet parallel, and ankles just below your wrists when you lift your arms into the shape of a T. Turn the toes of your right foot to the short edge of your mat (keep the other toes point to the side). Your right heel should be in line with the arch of your left foot, so adjust your stance as needed.
Inhale, then bend into the right knee, which should stay directly above your right ankle. Engage the muscles of your lower belly and relax your shoulders. Look out over the middle finger of your extended right arm. Make sure you can see the first and second toe of your right foot inside your right knee. Breathe here for five breaths, then move into reverse warrior before switching sides.
From Warrior II, inhale deeply, flipping the right palm to face the sky. As you exhale, allow your left hand to slide down your left leg and arch back with your right hand.
Keep bending into your right knee. Breathe here for five breaths, releasing on an inhale. Switch to the other side, starting with Warrior II.
Once again, step out in a wide stance. Have a block ready at the top of your mat. Turn the right foot to the short edge of your mat, following the same alignment instructions as the Warrior poses.
Engage the quadricep of your right leg – pull up on the kneecap and press firmly into the right big toe mound. Inhale your arms to the shape of a T, and on an exhale begin to pull your right hip back (deepening the hip crease) as you reach forward with your right hand.
Once you have reached as far as you can, pivot the right hand to a block by your right foot (or the inside of your right leg), and reach your left hand to the sky. Keep your shoulder blades on your back, and imagine that your heart and torso are twisting towards the sky. If it’s okay with your neck, turn to look at your left hand. Keep your kneecaps lifted.
Breathe here for five to ten breaths, then press into both feet and inhale to come back up.
Yoga for knee pain videos
Sometimes a video can help you jumpstart your practice. Here are three of our favorites.
1. Chair yoga for every joint
Although not specifically for knees, this 20-minute chair yoga sequence moves through every joint in the body (including the knees) to improve range of motion and warm up the body.
2. Active chair yoga
Another 20-minute sequence that adds more weight-bearing and stretching for the knees. A good progression from the first video when you are ready to add bodyweight exercise.
3. Yoga for strengthening knees
When you are ready to really get in more muscle strengthening, this is the class for you. Still under 30 minutes, this works the hamstrings and quadriceps to support the knees.
Videos do not take the place of a qualified and supportive instructor, but they can fill the gap when you don’t have time to make it to a full class.
3 yoga poses to avoid with knee pain
Although most yoga poses can be modified for people who suffering from knee pain, there are a few that you should avoid, especially during the most acute phases of an injury.
- Camel pose: Camel pose places a tremendous amount of pressure directly on the knees
- Hero pose: Children may have no problems with the pressure and bending of the joint in this pose, but those with knee injury or pain should avoid this posture (or only do it with lots of props and plenty of guidance)
- Revolved triangle: The lateral twisting forces of the spine travel right down through both legs and can be incredibly painful
Any postures that lead to hyperextension or the knee or “locking” the knee can also be injurious. These may include:
Other minimally-invasive knee pain treatments
Yoga has many benefits for chronic pain patients that go well beyond pain management. If you feel those benefits but are still in pain, there are other minimally invasive options including physical therapy and chiropractic care that can help with pain in your knees.
A highly-qualified pain specialist can help you better understand all of your options for pain relief, including yoga for knee pain. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.