How Yoga Can Help Heal & Prevent Knee Pain
Your knee is amazing! It's an incredible piece of engineering, structured as a "pivotal hinge joint." This means it not only swings back and forth, but also has a slight rotational capacity, allowing us to navigate easily over uneven ground. It also has a highly advanced system of lubricating fluid and cushioning sacks to keep things protected and moving easily. What's extra-special about this protective fluid is that it's not dumb. Land hard from a jump and it instantly becomes more viscous to absorb shock. Lighten your load and viscosity immediately reduces to support easy movement.
Of course, complicated engineering can be vulnerable. If you play sports, carry heavy loads, or just live your life for a bit, you've probably noticed that knees don't always feel great. They can also take quite a long time to heal, so when your knees send you signals, it's important to listen!
The number one way to prevent injury: if something hurts your knee, don't do it. Find another way. There's always a way to do what you need to do in your body, in a manner that doesn't injure, and just feels great.
If you do have some knee pain or an injury, it's always a great idea to talk with your doctor about these things. It helps to have direct advice from someone qualified, who knows your particular case history. From here, I can share from our experience at Strala, and my background in mind-body medicine.
Moving is good. Not so long ago, the medical approach to injury was to immobilize us for a long time. This kept people from hurting themselves even worse, but it made rehab very long and challenging, and often inhibited complete recovery.
Now, whenever possible, maintaining mobility is a more common treatment path. You want to support your body's natural healing process. Your body is great! But it can use your help. In general, you can support yourself by moving easy, everything you've got, in every direction you can.
In this case, "moving easy" means not putting much extra weight or stress on the knee. You don't want the injury or surrounding areas to feel challenged or strained. Yoga poses aren't particularly important here, and you especially don't want to "stretch" your knee in any way. If you're a yoga person interested in knee safety, dropping hero poses and not pushing into hip openers is always a good idea.
Instead, to restore and maintain healthy balance and mobility, you want to move easy. To stay easygoing here, lie on your back, and hold one thigh with both hands, so your knee is about vertical over your hip. Relax, and let your calf just hang easy. Then gently wiggle your thigh with your hands, so your calf softly rolls around and swings side to side. Explore different hand, arm, thigh, and whole-body positions, to find what feels most relaxed, and what makes it easiest to move without strain. Open the hip off to the side for a bit, then bring it across your body for a twist. Support your thigh as you extend your leg straight up, keeping the knee and leg relaxed — not stiff or stick-straight — and just give the whole leg a little wiggle and roll-around. These are all starting points. You get to find what feels best for you each day. There's lots of freedom to explore here, so use it and explore!
What you want to avoid is putting stress on your knee. If something hurts, don't do it! Find a way that doesn't hurt. When you're in pain, it puts stress into your body and mind. From here, the body kicks into defense mode. This is great for preventing an even worse injury, but it's not great for healing. To heal, you need to relax! Let stress leave your body. You can do this by finding places that you're comfortable, and moving gently from here.
Going easy is far from going lazy. So it doesn't mean ignore the injury and just lie around! It means move all around it, finding places that feel good to linger and breathe, and lingering and breathing right there. Moving evenly around an injury in this relaxed way has mechanical benefits of relaxing the surrounding areas and improving local circulation. It also triggers your body's Relaxation Response, a host of physiological reactions that support healing and overall health in your body.
One last tip: hot water bottles! Get two of them, fill with hot water straight from your tap — not scalding, just warm in a way that feels good — and surround whatever hurts. This doesn't always mean putting the bottle right on an injury. When something hurts, a fairly extended area can become stiff and tense as part of your body's defensive reaction. Explore what feels good up your thigh and into your lower back, as well as down into your calf.
Give your body a little support, and it will continue to perform miracles for you. Let me know how it goes!