Among the most common health complaints I hear is, “I’ve got a bad knee.” I’m the proud embodier of a previously injured knee myself, so I can easily empathize with knee caution. However, from my experience it seems most people don’t have “bad” or “weak” knees, they have inflexible or immobile hips and backs (see this q&a for another view of hips).
When your back or hips are tight, your range of motion is limited. By way of compensation, movement often gets bio-mechanically distributed toward smaller joints, in this case the knees, to make up the difference. This is especially true when we’re moving fast, carrying weight, or protecting another injury such as (you guessed it) pulled muscles in the back. For example, in virabhadrasana (warrior) one, if you attempt to turn your hips forward with the back heel down in vinyasa style, but your back or hips are too tight to accomplish this, the place that is going to “give” is the knee of the stepped back leg.
How can you help this? Certainly by regularly moving your back to maintain a full range of motion. I personally find yin yoga practice, as shown in Paul Grilley’s wonderful book, Yin Yoga A Quiet Practice, to be the best medicine I’ve ever used for my knees, and that’s because it frees up my back and hips! (You can practice yin with us in NYC on October 26th – beginners welcome!)
You’re not alone with your compromised knees, but you can be ahead of the game. This article on Web Md covers a CDCstudy done with the University of North Carolina that finds nearly half of all American adults will eventually develop arthritis – in their knees.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.