Here’s the good news: you most likely have knees. And, the bad: they will most likely be injured or sensitive at some (or several) moments in your life. Practicing with injured or recovering knees can be tricky, but these 5 tips will go a long way in helping you navigate some of the challenges that you might experience while practicing.
1. If you have knee discomfort in your life, anticipate that you WILL have to troubleshoot some challenges in your practice—but it will be worth it.
Good customer service relies on anticipating common challenges. Similarly, if you’re dealing with injured or sensitive knees, you need to anticipate that some postures will need to be modified or omitted. Don’t let yourself get stuck on the reality that some postures simply will not work for your body. Instead, practice with the mindset that YOU CAN DO THIS, but, no, YOU CAN’T DO ALL OF THIS.
2. Local, distinct knee discomfort in a posture is something to avoid, not lean into or work through.
I am not a Dr. and I don’t play one on TV, online, or in the classroom. Fortunately, it doesn’t take an MD to know that specific, local knee pain that presents increases when you’re practicing is something you want to avoid. At times, it’s difficult to know if certain pain is something you want to work through or avoid. Unless you’re working with PT or Dr., this kind of knee pain is something you definitely want to bypass.
3. Your challenges will likely follow a postural pattern—be an observer and collect the data.
Different postures create different types of stress for the knees. In extremely simplified terms, you can organize postures into different families based on the demands they place on the knees. The 4 most common families that you need to troubleshoot for the knees are:
- The Low Lunge family, where the knee is in direct contact with the ground.
- The Pigeon family, where the knee sometimes unfortunately experiences the forces of external rotation and adduction.
- The Bridge and Bow family, where the knee experiences the stress produced by the quadriceps as they eccentrically contract.
- The Virasana and Supta Virasana family, where the knee moves into deep flexion.
For most students with knee challenges, some of these families work and others don’t. If you can observe which family does not work for you, you can focus on avoiding or modifying this group while indulging in the others. Working with your knees is rarely an all or nothing game.
4. Maintain strength and length in your quadriceps.
Without crossing a line and becoming prescriptive, I can promise you that strong, flexible quadriceps are desirable for nearly every single malady that your knees will experience. If you can find a couple of postures that A) Strengthen your quads, like a sustained Utkatasana with a block between your thighs, or Bridge hugging the same block, and B) Lengthen your quads, like a Low-Lunge or Standing Quad Stretch with slight engagement of these muscles, go for it (time and time again).
5. Maintain strength and length in your outer hips and glutes.
Developing (or maintaining) muscular strength and flexibility in your hips–especially your outer hips and Gluteus family–will complement the work you’re doing for your quadriceps. In particular, strengthening these regions may help reduce the stress in your knees and set up your knees for better health and longevity.
Want to put some of these tips into practice with Jason? Try Managing Knee Pain. This 30-minute class includes a lecture, demonstration, and quick practice for tender knees.