Yoga for Knee Problems

Nearly 11 million Americans yearly see a doctor about knee pain, reports "Yoga Journal." Knee pain is caused by aging, obesity, overuse and, sometimes, just plain bad luck. The ancient art of yoga can be both a cure and a cause of knee pain, depending on your approach. Always obtain clearance from your doctor, work with a certified instructor and warm up appropriately before class to make yoga a positive experience for problem knees.

Yoga Equals Strength and Flexibility

By strengthening the muscles around the knee, namely the hamstrings and the quadriceps of the thigh, yoga can be a solution to knee pain. When your thigh muscles are weak, the knee joint is forced to take more impact with each step you take. Poses such as Warrior I and Warrior II build strength in the legs, while Seated Forward Folds help increase mobility in the hamstrings. Tight, weak hips correlate with knee pain, found a study published in the August 2007 issue of "The North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy." Revolved Triangle and Revolved Side Angle are poses that target the outer hips

Promoting Balanced Strength

Yoga poses, particularly standing options, build balanced strength in your leg muscles, which results in equal pull and pressure on the ligaments of the knee cap and better knee alignment, notes "Yoga Journal." Muscle imbalances, such as those found in people who run and fail to cross train, can also be a source of knee pain and may be addressed by yoga. Yoga poses move you in multiple directions, rather than repetitively in one set movement -- mitigating the repetitive nature of activities that lead to overuse injuries and knee problems.

Research Supports Yoga

When done with mindfulness and understanding of the body, certain yoga practices may be able to help alleviate knee pain. The "International Journal of Yoga" published a study in July 2011 showing that a yoga program consisting of loosening and strengthening exercises, physical postures, relaxation techniques, breathing, meditation and lectures on lifestyle change done six times per week for two weeks proved better than more traditional physical therapy exercises in improving knee disability in people with osteoarthritis of the knee joint. The yoga was done in conjunction with ultrasound and electrical stimulation.

Mindfulness in Poses

Staying aware during your yoga practice is key in preventing your yoga practice from doing your knees harm. If you feel any pain, you should back out of a pose immediately. Complex postures that call for extreme bending of the knee, such as the Reclined Hero's pose, in which you sit on your shins and lean back, could aggravate or cause knee pain -- especially if you aren't warmed up when attempting them. Locking or hyperextending the knee in a pose such as Triangle or Forward Fold can also cause pain. If you have overly mobile joints, keep your knees slightly bent in these poses to prevent hyperextension. Pay close attention to your foot placement in standing postures, which forms the foundation for how your knee aligns with the rest of your leg and hips. Use props if necessary during poses, including chairs, walls and blocks, to modify and minimize extreme bends in the knee joint.

About the Author

Andrea Cespedes has been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. A personal trainer, run coach, group fitness instructor and master yoga teacher, she also holds certifications in holistic and fitness nutrition.