How to Modify Common Yoga Poses for Knee Injuries

By Lisa M. Wolfe

If you enter your yoga workouts with knee pain, you do not have to suffer through your practice. Instead, support your knees in some poses with props such as bolsters, blocks and blankets until you rebuild your strength. Other poses are modified to reduce the strain on the joint until your knee injury improves. Your knees may be aggravated by too much bending or by over-straightening, so before you begin your yoga session, speak with a medical professional to ensure that you will not reinjure your knee through exercise.

Provide Extra Support

Your knees are a delicate joint. Sometimes, to reduce pain, they need the support of a soft blanket, towel or pillow, commonly referred to as a bolster. Bolsters are available in different shapes and sizes to support many yoga postures. For example, in Child's pose, in which you are on your shins with your forehead on the mat, place a pillow or bolster between your butt and your heels to reduce the bend of your knees and lessen stress. During Pigeon pose, where the lower half of your right leg is resting on the floor in front of you and your left leg is behind you, rest your right leg on a bolster or folded up blanket for extra support.

Place a blanket under your bent knees when you are seated on the floor during Head-to-Knee Forward Bend pose to reduce the strain on the joints. When you perform Hero pose during which your shins are on the floor, rest your back on top of a bolster or folded up blanket to reduce the bend in your knees. Other modifications include kneeling on blankets or rolled-up towels during poses such as King Pigeon, Low Lunge or Gate pose, in which you kneel on one leg and straighten the other out to your side.

Limit Range of Motion

If you do not have access to soft supports, limit the range of motion in your poses to reduce your knee pain. For example, in a seated Head-to-Knee pose, don't bend your knee all the way and do not try to place your sole against the opposite inner thigh. During Bridge pose limit how high you raise your hips to reduce the pressure on your knees. You can also widen the space between your legs. While seated in Perfect pose, instead of bending your knees and crossing your legs in front of you, which can be painful on your knees, keep your legs wide -- do not bend your knees all the way -- with your feet slightly away from you. Avoid overextending your knees by keeping them slightly bent during standing poses such as Mountain, Forward Bend, Triangle, Pyramid and Right Angle posture, in which you are folded forward until your upper-body is parallel with the floor. Lessen the bend in your knees during Legs-Up-the-Wall pose, whether your legs are together or apart. When lying on your back with one leg straight on the floor and the other knee held your chest in Half Wind-Releasing pose, also referred to as knee to chest pose, hold onto the back of your thigh instead of your shin to reduce the pressure on your kneecap.

Use a Chair

If your knee injury prevented you from practicing yoga and you are returning to your workout, use a chair to support your postures. Perform Warrior poses while seated in a chair to take the weight off your knees -- turn slightly sideways, bend your front knee and straighten your back leg. Perform a seated Mountain pose in which you sit tall and concentrate on your posture, or execute Forward Bend and Chair poses by extending your arms out in front of you. Once your knees are able to support your body weight, continue to use the chair from a standing position. Stand sideways and place one hand onto the back of the chair during your Warrior sequence, place both hands on the chair back during Forward Bend and hold onto the chair for balance during Tree pose, in which you support your weight on one foot and place the other against your shin or inner thigh, until your knees are strong and the pain is gone.

Don't Forget the Blocks

Yoga blocks are a solid prop to help limit your range of motion and reduce knee strain. You can use the blocks next to your knees or under your hands. For example, place a block under each knee in Lotus and Cobbler's poses, when you sit with your legs are crossed, to reduce the pull of gravity on your knees. Rest a block between your butt and your heels when kneeling during Hero and Lion poses to limit the bend in your knees and reduce the strain on the joint. If your knees overextend when you lie flat on your back during Corpse pose, place a block underneath each knee for support. If they overextend during poses such as Forward Fold, in which you stand and fold forward from the waist, place your hands on the blocks to limit your range of motion. You can also use the blocks under both hands during Pigeon pose to take the pressure off your knees and support more of your weight in your arms.

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