It may be that it’s just another one of those ageing things, but I’ve been noticing more people showing up with knee strain and pain. Some of these are in the age bracket I consider still young–people in their fifties. Others are decidedly older. Whatever your age, knee pain holds you back from full participation in life.
Until you develop a knee problem, you probably don’t pay any attention to this vital joint. Yet, it is one of the most important joints in the human body. Ease of knee movement is essential to everyday activities: walking, running, standing, even sitting. Healthy knees facilitate the lower legs moving relative to the thighs while supporting the body’s weight.
The reasons that knee problems develop are varied. There are three main knee ‘bugbears’ which have to do with body imbalances. One is hyper-flexibility, which leads to overextending the knee. Another imbalance is related to the feet, where one’s arches are either overly high or collapsed. Either of these create problems that run from the ground up to the knees and create uneven wear and tear. For instance, the foot arch imbalance causes the cartilage on one side of the kneecap to wear out, possibly leading to osteoarthritis.
The third difficulty is having tight or weak thigh muscles. That can mean that either the quadriceps or hamstrings have become stiff.
Yoga done properly over time will help ward off knee problems. But if pain and strain are currently restricting your movement, it will take an experienced yoga teacher to advise and monitor you. Gentle, careful and safe are the bywords for yoga practice in class or at home.
If you are dealing with knee pain or strain at the moment, and are doing yoga, follow these suggestions:
- Become aware of the difference between pain and stretching. ‘Toughing it out’ is likely to exacerbate the problem. ‘No gain without pain’ is a phrase that needs to be retired!
- Become familiar with your quadriceps muscles (front thigh muscles). Learn to straighten your legs without locking the knees. Rather, extend your legs by keeping the quadriceps active and engaged. For a therapeutic take on using the quadriceps muscles, read Doug Keller’s article in Yoga International.
- Listen to your body! Resect your body’s limits. Pushing yourself too far or too fast in postures will only lead to future difficulties.
Simple exercises and a relaxation
If, at this time, you are pain-free, here is a practice that you can follow to rehabilitate your knees.
Sit to stand – Sit slightly forward on a flat-seated chair, with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your toes under your knees. Begin to transfer your weight evenly to both feet and come slowly to standing. Then, return to sitting, bowing forward slightly and bringing your hips back first. Do this five times and build up over time to ten repetitions.
Half squat (Utkatasana) at the wall – Stand with your back to the wall, your feet parallel and hip-width apart. Walk your feet forward, sliding your back down the wall until your legs from right angles, knees directly over your heels. Lift your arches with your ankles balanced. Hold for 30 seconds, then build up to one minute over time. If this is too difficult at first, start with your hips a bit higher on the wall and keep your timing to 15 or 20 seconds.
All of the standing poses are helpful for strengthening hips and legs. But they need to be done with great attention to alignment. And to reading your body.
To finish your yoga practice, chair Savasana is restful for body and mind. A strap around the thighs keeps the knees from rolling out. Stay for 10 minutes.