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Yoga for knees

Siski Green / 28 June 2017

If your knee joints cause you trouble, focus on these specific exercises to alleviate pain and gain strength.

Yoga class
Gentle yoga moves may help you stay supple

You may not spend much time on your knees but even so, they bear the brunt of the work when you’re moving or simply standing still.

The knee often suffers because the three bones there – the shinbone, thigh bone and knee cap – are held together by ligaments, stretching and moving and supporting those large bones whatever you’re doing, even when sitting.

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Add to that stress activities such as running or standing for long periods of time, and you can maybe imagine why today around one in four women complain of sore knee joints. But it doesn’t have to be this way – some simple exercise moves can not only help strengthen your knee joints or more specifically, the muscles around them, they can also help alleviate pain.

Please note: Never perform any exercise that causes you pain. If you have a knee injury or other knee health problem speak to your physiotherapist or a medical professional before attempting any exercise. These exercises should not cause discomfort, so if you do feel any pain, stop immediately. 

How to stay supple

Slow and steady movements

When you’re dealing with sore knees or knees that are sensitive or weakened, it’s essential that you focus on slow and steady movements.

Moving at speed, or jerking or forcing your limbs into position could cause you more injury and pain. However, avoiding movement altogether can also cause more injury and pain.

So aim to increase flexibility and strength in your joints, so that not only can you recover more quickly, you’ll prevent knee problems in the future.  

10 great flexibility exercises

Focus on feet

Believe it or not, the way you stand on your feet can have a dramatic effect on your knees. If your feet tend to turn out or in, for example, or if your arches have fallen.

Look at your feet in a mirror when standing, from the front and sides. Now close your eyes and feel where your feet are pressing into the floor – ideally you’ll feel pressure all over your feet, the ‘four corners’, so both sides and both ends (front and back) of your feet. Whatever pose you’re doing, and when you’re standing and even sitting, focus on applying pressure on those ‘four corners.’ 

Yoga move: Try the mountain pose. With your feet positioned so your second toes are parallel (the base of your big toes touching each other, heels slightly apart), raise your toes, then the balls of your feet, then back again. Let yourself rock like this until you come to a natural even balance on your feet. Remember to hold your upper body in a good position too - lengthening your spine, keeping your ears in line with your shoulders (vertically), and aiming your tailbone (your coccyx) towards the floor.  

How yoga benefits both body and mind

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Balance your body

One of the main reasons people suffer with knee pain is actually because other parts of their body are off-centre. So if you tend to hunch your shoulders, or arch your back, your body’s balance is thrown off and so more pressure is put on your knee joints causing injury or pain. You can strengthen your muscles all you like, but if your alignment is off, you won’t fix the problem. So the yoga focus here is poses that use your entire body, teaching your body to stand, sit or rest in perfect alignment. 

Yoga move: Try one of the balancing yoga moves, such as the tree pose, for example, but keep a chair to one side for support in case you need it. Close your eyes as you balance so that you get a good feel for where your body needs to be. 

Which type of yoga is right for you?

Loosen your hips

Tight hips – where your muscles are tight or ‘short’ and so you can’t bring your bent leg up to your chest for example – can lead to problems with your knees because they take up the slack. The problem here is that often the yoga poses that open up your hips – sitting cross-legged for example – can feel painful to your knees. The answer? Cushions, noodles or rolled up blankets. If you sit on a slim cushion, for example, your hips are raised and this helps take pressure off your knees. 

Yoga move: The frog pose is a great way to open up your hips but as you are on your knees it can be painful – so use a support cushion to take the pressure off. Kneeling, place a block or two cushions in front of you, then gently ‘walk’ your hands until your midriff is over the cushions. Gently lower yourself so that your legs bend, positioning them to the outside of your midriff (like frog’s legs) and rest your upper body on the cushions. This allows you to stretch your hips without putting undue pressure on your knees. 

Five key yoga poses

Gently strengthen your leg muscles

Once your body is better aligned you can focus on strengthening the muscles that help support your knees. The gluteus muscles in your bottom, hamstrings in your lower legs and quads in your upper thighs are important, but so are your abdominal muscles – as these help you maintain good posture, keeping your spine aligned and head in the right position, so that your knees aren’t overdoing it. 

Yoga move: Lie on your back with a soft block or cushion between your thighs. With your feet flat on the floor and your hands pressing into the mat, raise your bottom off the floor to make a ‘bridge’. Squeeze the cushion or block between your thighs as you hold this position. 

Learn more about the principles of yoga

New to yoga? Find a yoga class near you

Visit the British Wheel of Yoga's website to find a class near you

Please note: Never perform any exercise that causes you pain. If you have a knee injury or other knee health problem speak to your physiotherapist or a medical professional before attempting any exercise. These exercises should not cause discomfort, so if you do feel any pain, stop immediately. 

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