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Kneehab: 5 Yoga-Inspired Moves to Tune Up Your Knees

By , Jill Miller, creator of Yoga Tune Up®
Knee pain can come on suddenly: a sideways blow in athletics or a nasty fall while stepping off a curb. But many knee issues creep up after years of poor alignment, which results in wear and tear and arthritis. No matter the cause, knee issues do not often exist in isolation. In other words, a "cranky" knee will often have an un-neighborly relationship with the ankle below it, and/or the hip above it.  
Whatever detonated your knee pain, the tissues above and below the knee must be nurtured, strengthened and given some "KneeHab" in order for the knee to learn some new strategies for pain-free living. And don't forget the other knee, hip and ankle on the non-injured side, as it will also develop its own issues too from being "leaned on" so often. These compensation attempts inevitably lead to low back pain, neck and shoulder pain—and more yuck. 
My Yoga Tune Up® Quick Fix Rx: KneeHab DVD ($19.95) provides solutions whether your knee is wonky from sports, you're recovering from meniscus surgery or you are just looking to prevent knee injury. It will show you how to help manage just about every stage of knee dysfunction and maintenance. Here are five Yoga Tune Up® moves from my DVD to keep your knees happy, healthy and pain free!
Playing Footsie
  • Stand with one Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball (you can also use a tennis ball or racquetball) under the right foot and place your hand on a wall or chair.
  • Roll the ankle from side-to-side (10-20 times) that the ball rubs into the bottom of the foot and massages into the plantar fascia.
  • Then move the ball toward the heel, stopping the ball just in front of the heel. Sink the ball into the foot, slightly bend the knee to drive more force into the ball and then move ankle from side-to side. Repeat 10-20 times.
  • Place the ball at the base of the toes keeping the heel on the floor and allow the foot bones and toe bones to drape over the ball. Move ankle from side-to side 10-20 times.
  • Finally, roll the ball up and down the foot in a "rolling pin" action to stretch into all of the foot muscles (many of these muscles can be traced all the way up to the knee!)
  • Switch sides.
Why you KNEED to do this:
The feet and ankles contain 25% of the body's bones. Keeping the architecture of the feet strong, supple and responsive can make all the difference in the world for a knee that lives above this complex structure. Feet that are full of locked up joints, weakened musculature and collapsed arches create a faulty tread. The knee will pay the price for a rickety foundation "downstairs."
Iliotibial Band Savior
  • Place two Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls in a tote against the side of the left thigh.
  • Roll the balls in an up-and-down motion tracking them from the side of the hip to an inch above the knee. Breathe deeply—it's going to create a lot of sensation! Continue for approximately 90 seconds to 2 minutes.
  • Then move your thigh toward your chest and away from the chest, as if you were walking slowly, and allow the balls to cross across the side of the thigh. Breathe deeply because you'll feel this even more intensely! Continue for approximately 90 seconds to 2 minutes.
  • Switch sides!
Why you KNEED to do this:
The IT Band is often unreasonably tight with any type of knee dysfunction. This thickened sheath on the side of the quadriceps is a massive band of connective tissue is in direct continuity with the hips, buttocks low back, and the lower leg bones. This connective tissue is also wrapping around portions of the quadriceps muscles that tend to be very imbalanced with knee dysfunction. Stroking the balls both along and against the lateral thigh can make a huge difference in relieving pain and improving muscle function of the quads.
Chair Pose with a Block
  • Stand with a yoga block or large book in between the thighs, just above the knees and squeeze intensely while breathing and bracing your core.
  • Raise arms to the sky, palms pointing towards one another. 
  • Add to this a deep activation of all the buttock muscles and begin to sit down as if a chair were behind you. Lean your body weight back in order to bear as much of the load as possible into the back of the heel, and your bottom. Hold for 1 full minute.
  • Add a challenge by picking the right foot off the floor and hold for five breaths, then change feet.
Why you KNEED to do this:
Chair pose requires the entire body become strong and stable as it begins to squat. The block helps to remind the inner thighs to participate in stabilizing the knee during the entire move. Oftentimes weak inner thighs can be the culprit of knee pain. This pose demands that every stabilizing muscle surrounding the knee be used in full force. Additionally the abdominals, spine and shoulders participate recruiting the whole body as a source of empowerment for the knee. You will feel this tomorrow. Especially if you do five full rounds of 1-minute holds!
Runner's Lunge Redo
  • Place the right foot on top of a chair and walk the left foot back until you feel a stretch in the left hip flexors (at the very top portion of the thigh, just below the hip). The right knee should be above the ankle as much as possible. 
  • Keeping the core muscles bracing the spine, bend the left leg as far as you are able and allow the quads and hip flexors to lengthen eccentrically. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
  • Switch sides
Why you KNEED to do this:
This pose demands that the hip flexors strengthen as they lengthen. This also promotes deep elongation of the iliopsoas, a deep postural muscle that will often go into spasm because of a faulty knee. Notice how both feet are parallel? This pose also helps to track the hips in a more neutral, less "duck walk" position for walking, running and standing.
IT Band Meltdown
  • Prop the right side of your body on a chair (this can also be done on the arm of a sofa).
  • Swing the left leg back a few inches, and then hook the right ankle onto the left shin and begin to pull the left leg down towards the ground.
  • As the leg is lowered, create resistance to make it difficult to pull the left leg downward. Hold for 1-2 minutes with deep breathing.
  • Switch sides.
Why you KNEED to do this:
This pose lengthens the low back, side of hip and the ever-famous IT Band. It stretches the lateral gluteal muscles (gluteus medius and minimus), which can become riddled with knots and trigger points due to compensations for knee pain. The lateral hip capsule is mobilized and synovial fluid can coat into portions of the hip that may be a bit dry from lack of mobility. By adding the resistance, you will not only stretch these tissues, but will strengthen them within a lengthened position which will lead to more fluidity of motion in the hip.
In addition to these five therapeutic moves, here are my three best tips and long-term strategies to prevent knee pain:
  1. Change your footwear. Say bye-bye to high heels and too-tight toe boxes!
  2. Correct your walking posture. Notice if you’re walking like a duck-footed ballerina, and if so, work toward correcting so that your toes point directly forward with every step.  
  3. Stop leaning onto one leg or hip while you are standing or sitting. Be poised in your posture with equal weight in both legs.
About Jill Miller
Jill Miller is a yoga/fitness therapy expert. She instructs her original Yoga Tune Up® format worldwide and has produced over 55 critically acclaimed videos and therapeutic fitness products. Her innovative format is taught nationwide at Equinox gyms and has been featured on the "Today" show, ABC TV, FOX TV, SELF magazine, Shape, Fitness, Redbook, Prevention, Real Simple, Yoga Journal, Chatelaine, Whole Living, Muscle & Fitness, and more. She is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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MILPAM3 5/2/2021
Wish I'd read this long before my knee went bad. Report
LRCOTE 1/31/2021
I have a friend who had a knee replaced last month. I’ll send this to her, see if they could help. Report
REDROBIN47 10/22/2020
Great article. My knees are starting to show my age so I am being careful. Report
Interesting. Report
Thanks for sharing!!!!!! Report
Thanks!!!!! Report
Great info! Thanks for sharing this one!!!!! Report
Do not do these if you already have knee problems without talking to your doctor first Report
thanks for sharing Report
Great for healthy joints: not for already bad knees. Report
thanks Report
Thank you Report
Awesome information. Report
laying on the chair that way wont happen for me..
but like to read about new things and different exercises Report
Agree with UNESHADOW -- I'm totally unable to envision how to "Roll the balls in an up-and-down motion tracking them from the side of the hip to an inch above the knee." Do I do this by moving my leg around or up & down or ??? Her hand is on top of her leg, so the balls aren't being moved by hand. Report
Excellent info!! Thank you! Report
good info Report
Great exercises to try. Thank you. Report
Looks like fun. Report
Loved the IT Stretch comment "Breathe deeply—it's going to create a lot of sensation!" This really hurt! I guess I needed it. Report
I found this article quite interesting. Report
I'm having real difficulty trying to envision the Iliotibial Band Savior exercise. Definitely need to see a video. Report
I'm 55, and I lead floor aerobics for seniors. I've had operations on both knees; and was recently in a rear-ender that hurt my back. Saw a chiropractor for a year, which did help but was horribly expensive. I did learn that foot, knee and back problems are related.
About 5 years back, I had the opportunity to do a once-a-week hatha yoga class regularly (for free). Ugh. Wavy-gravy, hippy-dippy nonsense, I said. But I don't WANT to have a closed mind, so I decided to TRY it for 3 months. I admit I did not do any yoga outside of class -- but after the fourth class, I walked out feeling lithe and limber and GOOD in my body. SUNNYARIZONA, I'm so glad I overcame my mental attitude to yoga because my physical "attitude" got so much better because of it! I did yoga for 2 years (the duration of the free class). Folks, yoga IS exercise!

So after reading this blog and the comments, I was eager to try the exercises since I've noticed (and my chiropractor pointed out) other age-related degeneration of foot, spine, and knee. How horrible it is to not be able to walk without pain! I immediately tried the IT Band Meltdown, and experienced some mild discomfort on my "bad" side" and some pleasant stretching on the other side, once I was able to relax into the stretch. (Makes me wonder if I did the exercise in proper form!)

Anyway, what are your choices? Resist change and anything new? You CAN"T! We ARE aging every day. Pain is NOT injury. There is good advice in this blog; and in the comments to see a professional, but don't let mental resistance stop you from walking pain-free! Unfortunately, it doesn't come in a pill; it might come with some pain; but the pain passes, and the improvement lasts way longer than the pain. That's worth doing wavy-gravy hippy-dippy stuff!
I love yoga but can only do modified poses because of severe arthritis. I wouldn't try these in a million years. I will stick with the physical therapy I was taught. These look fine if you want to strengthen healthy knees, but if you already have knee problems, I'd consult a specialist first: a yoga instructor who understands pre- and post-knee-op conditions, a physical therapist, etc. I don't even understand the 2nd one shown; maybe is it clearer on the DVD. My son is a certified personal trainer with his own business and he has recommended exercises that are impossible for me. Thank goodness he lives 250 miles away and I don't have to argue with him about my pain levels and abilities. Please use caution if you have troubled knees! Sure, I want to strengthen the muscles etc but not at the expense of walking ability (I use a cane) and sleeping at night. As much as I love yoga, there's no way I am doing poses beyond my pain tolerance. My chiro says I should feel stretch, not pain. Report
I use a foam roller for an exercise like the IT Band savior.
Even with a full foam roller it can be extremely uncomfortable, especially the first few times you perform it.

I am gonna try playing footsie - my arches are extremely uncomfortable and I hope I can improve my plantar fascitis symptoms as well as the help this can provide additional knee stability and strength improvement. Report
I'll stay with PRISCILLA PATRICK who has had her PBS-TV show for nearly 20 years and has been a Yoga teacher since 1974. Her web site is at YogaOne(dot)com She's 67, so I know she knows about backs and knees. Report
my Dr just told me that the pain in my knee was merely age related...ugh! I got a knee sleeve and a prescription for 600mg Ibuprofin.
When I get a few bucks, Ima gonna BUY this DVD!!! Report
Wow that's so serendipitous, I JUST got this dvd! Report
Thank you for the outstanding information Report
I don't and WON'T do yoga. Report
I wouldn't think these exercises would be good for knee replacement therapy, except for maybe the ones with the tennis ball. I have done yoga for many years, and I will say, I love it, but..I just had my right knee replaced in November, and looking at left one, in the next year. You must be very careful with your knees. They are VERY delicate joints. Report
I do the first 2 exercises already. I'm going to try the other three. My knee problems come and go and I'm always looking for ways to keep my knee tracking properly. Report
I lol'd at the IT band saviour "creates a lot of sensation." why mince words, just say it hurts like a MF! that's closer to the truth. Report
I have had a knee replacement last year. It feels great. Will these exercises benefit me?
I am a 64 years old female. Report
I just completed a month of therapy and still have problems. Though I will continue the exercises I learned in PT this video will sure help me understand what I need to do. Report
I'd like to try this DVD. My knees swell up at night so I know I have some work to do rather than taking anti-imflamitory pills every night. Report
Would love to see some other yoga moves to strengthen more knee muscles. These are a great start and important. I have a regimen that I do with 10 lb leg weights and would love to see more options in this line of fitness. Thanks! Report
GAHHH where were you DVD!! *As I sit here recovering from this morning Knee Surgery!! Guess ill have to look into the DVD when I get out of this brace. Report
Wow!! This was a super helpful article. Thank you so much for writing this. Report
I'm eager to try some of these and to see the DVD. So many of us have knee issues that can be helped a lot with careful strengthening of the muscles affecting their alignment. I'm only just beginning to learn how much of a difference attention to body mechanics can make and this will certainly help! Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Report
This is so timely for me. Thank you so much for sharing. Report
Now this is a DVD that thousands of military people should receive especially the senior ranking ones. Rigorous regular PRT and the mandatory PRT testing takes a toll on the knees of our military member. Hopefully someone will rent this and share these techniques with them so in their later years they will have reduced knee problems. Report