The Benefits of Yoga for Bad Knees

If you struggle with knee pain, yoga may offer relief. A regular exercise routine can help maintain good strength and mobility in the knees, which are crucial for walking and other daily activities, but choosing the right kind of exercise can be tricky. Many common exercises, such as running and aerobics, are high-impact exercises (movements that put a high level of impact on the joints), which can put pressure on the knees and worsen knee pain.

Yoga is a low-impact exercise, which means it increases heart rate while minimizing the amount of stress on the joints. It's good for people with knee pain because it can reduce chronic pain while improving mobility, physical fitness, and overall quality of life. Understanding which poses to practice (and avoid) can ensure that you enjoy the maximum benefits of a regular yoga practice.

Benefits of Yoga for Bad Kneeds

Jessica Olah / Verywell

Benefits of Yoga for Knees

Studies have shown that repetitive, high-impact exercises like soccer and weightlifting can make knee pain worse. These activities are hard on the joints and can increase the risk of joint injury and osteoarthritis, which causes pain, stiffness, and restricted joint movement later in life.

In contrast, research has shown that yoga is helpful for the joints in the elderly and in people with conditions that cause chronic knee pain. Yoga can improve mobility, walking speed, and posture in older adults. It also has a positive impact on the flexibility of the knee flexors—the muscles that help the knees bend and extend.

Yoga has been proven to reduce pain and stiffness in people who experience chronic knee pain, such as in the case of muscular dystrophy and rheumatoid arthritis. Yoga can be especially therapeutic for people with knee osteoarthritis, resulting in less pain and better mobility in this population. Regular yoga practice can therefore help those with arthritis become more active and experience improved quality of life.

How to Practice

Like any form of exercise, yoga can be intense and potentially harmful if it isn’t approached mindfully. Certain types of yoga move at a faster pace and can actually put pressure on the knees. It's important to choose a style that will minimize intensity to avoid exacerbating knee pain.

The best styles of yoga for knee pain include:

  • Hatha yoga
  • Iyengar yoga
  • Restorative yoga
  • Yin yoga
  • Kundalini yoga

These are gentler styles that allow for mindful movement, which can lubricate the joints while preventing injury. If you’re new to yoga and have knee pain, it is best to avoid vinyasa- or "flow"-based yoga styles like Bikram, Ashtanga, and Baptiste.

Best Yoga Poses for Knees

Just as many styles of yoga are different, not all yoga poses are created equal. Some can put strain on the knee and should be avoided.

Yoga poses that may help with knee pain include the following.

  • Bound-angle pose: Also known as the butterfly pose, bound angle is a seated pose in which the soles of the feet come together and the knees are bent out wide. In addition to lightly stretching the knees, this pose opens the hip flexors, inner thighs, and groin muscles, all of which affect the knees. To avoid stressing the knee, start practicing this pose with the knees only slightly bent. Then move your feet closer to your groin only to your degree of comfort over time.
  • Warrior pose: When performed with proper alignment, Warrior I, II, and III can help strengthen the many muscles surrounding the knee, helping to improve stability in the knee joint as well as your overall balance. The key, particularly with poses in which the forward knee is bent (such as warrior I and II), is to keep the knee at a 90-degree angle. To achieve this, ensure your forward knee is always positioned directly over your ankle when in these poses.
  • Bridge pose: This pose also places the knee in a comfortable position of flexion of about 90 degrees and strengthens the gluts, core, and quads.
  • Legs-up-the-wall pose: This yoga pose involves lying with your back on the floor and extending your legs up against the wall. You can also prop your lower back up with pillows or blankets. This pose reduces swelling and inflammation throughout the entire lower body while regulating blood flow.

In yoga, it's always important to listen to your own body. A pose that works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa. However, here are a few tips for specific poses to avoid if you're experiencing knee pain.

  • Avoid postures that are difficult for you to maintain proper alignment in. If you're struggling, ask your teacher for a modification—a good teacher will have a number of alternatives that can help you gain the benefits of the pose without the risk.
  • Avoid poses that place the legs at uneven, awkward angles or place an extreme stretch on the knee joint, such as hero's pose or child's pose. Sitting on a block may make these poses more accessible (the block can be positioned at medium or full height), but don't feel pressure to perform them if you experience discomfort.
  • Avoid poses that involve bending your knee to the side, like pigeon pose.

Keep Your Knees Safe During Yoga

If you want to practice yoga but struggle with knee pain, it’s a good idea to support your body with props. Props play a variety of roles in yoga, and they can be used to modify poses and make them more accessible and comfortable if you're experiencing knee pain.

  • A thick yoga mat: Thicker yoga mats provide more cushion between you and the floor, which is helpful for when your knees are on the ground. Beware of mats that are too cushioned, however, since they can make it harder to balance on. If you have trouble placing your knee directly on the floor in a pose that requires kneeling, folding your mat over to double the padding beneath your knee can help.
  • Blankets: Yoga blankets or bath towels are a great way to add cushion to your practice and make poses more comfortable. For example, a blanket can be rolled up and tucked between the glutes and ankles while in child's pose to broaden the angle of the bent knee and reduce discomfort.
  • Yoga blocks: Blocks are a great addition to any yoga practice, because they bring the floor closer to you and help you explore poses without overextending yourself. If sitting cross-legged on the floor is uncomfortable, for example, sitting on a block can alleviate pressure.

A Word From Verywell

Yoga offers a wide range of benefits for knee pain when used as part of an ongoing treatment plan. All you need to get started is a mat and some props to keep yourself comfortable during a session. However, it's important to know your limits and not to stretch yourself too far when practicing yoga. If certain poses feel too difficult, feel free to perform an alternative pose or ask your teacher to find a position or modification that is more comfortable for you. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing knee pain, and before starting a yoga program, to make sure the exercise is right for you.

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