As a physical therapist, I treat those with knee injuries almost every day. Even if someone does not have a knee injury, and pain is coming from another joint, I will still look at how the knee is moving functionally (how someone squats or uses stairs). When teaching yoga, this is a joint my attention tends to dart towards if the correct alignment isn’t happening.
So – what is the knee joint? Musculoskeletally speaking – you have bones, ligaments, cartilage, and muscle that make the joint healthy and strong. Let me give you a very brief overview of the composition of the joint. The femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) stack on top of each other with the meniscus, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) between. The medial and lateral collateral ligaments support the sides of the knee joint. The patella (knee cap) sits in the groove of the femur which is stabilized by the patella tendon. Muscles that support the knee joint are the quadriceps (used to straighten the knee) and hamstrings (used to bend the knee).
Another big muscle group that supports the knee joint are the gluteus muscles. This is sometimes surprising to my patients because their assumption is they ONLY need strong quadriceps to support the knee. As it turns out, everything is connected in the body and the gluteus muscles are incredibly important to knee health. These muscles are in fact attached to the femur, so it is imperative that they are not only strong but also have motor control (another post on this topic at a later date).
So, after nerding out on you – these are the three things to watch for in yoga class to protect your knee joint:
- When in a Warrior poses, Crescent lunge, or Chair pose – do not let your knees go past your toes. If you can’t see your ankle, then your knees are past your toes! Ways to adjust in Warrior poses and Crescent lunge is take a bigger step or do not bend your knee past 90 degrees. In Chair pose, sit your buttocks towards the back edge of your mat and shift your weight into your heels.
- Again, when in warrior poses or crescent lunge – keep your knee aligned with your second and third toe on your foot. A lot of times in class, I see the knee fall toward the big toe and this is probably what I see the most often in class! To maintain alignment here, tighten your gluteus muscles and then actively pull the knee towards your pinkie toe.
3. Finally, when the knee is straight – do not hyperextend your knee. Technically speaking, hyperextension is when the knee joint goes past zero degrees. Essentially, what to look for here is if your knee looks like it is going backwards – it is as weird looking as it sounds! Two examples of where I see this a lot is in Triangle pose or balancing poses. To keep this from happening in poses, have a soft bend to your knee and then engage your quadriceps by drawing your knee cap up towards your nose.
I could probably go on and on about the knee joint – but this is just a little something, something to get you thinking about your knees in class. Remember if you ever have any knee pain, please consult with your physician or trusted physical therapist! Watch out for a workshop later this year on the knee joint!