SparkPeople Blogs  •  fitness  •  injury

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

By , Jill Miller, creator of Yoga Tune UpĀ®
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.