Give Your Knees the Bee’s Knees Yoga Treatment
An interview with: Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist at 5 Koshas.
Written by: Bernice Thrill
Combining yoga therapy with other sports and activities can be an efficient way to keep your body conditioned and help prevent injury, according to Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist at 5 Koshas.
Knees in particular can be easily affected by the twisting and torqueing certain sports require. Take pickleball, for example. This sport has exploded in popularity in the United States, as have injuries from playing a game that can place forceful movements on joints. According to the Journal of Emergency Medicine, the majority of pickleball injuries are related to strains, sprains or fractures.
Yoga therapy practices can be helpful from a preventative standpoint for a range of activities:
- Conditioning for a major sports event, a hiking trip, or ski season
- Habitual movement patterns like locking the knees
- Tracking problems from the hips to knees
- Tracking problems from the ankles to knees
- Past injuries that create vulnerability
- Tensor fasciae tightness
- Tightness or weakness in the muscles that support the knee joint
For example, if you are someone with an alignment pattern commonly referred to as “knock-knees,” some muscles will be working more and may get more contracted while other muscles will be underused and weak. A yoga therapy practice can help manage muscle imbalances that contribute to knee pain.
“While knees are certainly vulnerable to chronic issues, arthritis, and injuries, it’s also an area of the body that is easy to strengthen and condition,” Hilliker explains. “In yoga therapy, we target key muscle groups while also taking into consideration the type of activity a person wants to do (sports) and needs to do (stand at work).”
Yoga therapy practices will not be pretzel-y yoga postures. Twisting and torqueing the knees would likely contribute to more pain. “Instead, we focus on non-weight bearing postures that strengthen and lengthen and promote muscle balance, possibly some partial weight bearing postures and then as tolerated, standing postures.” Hilliker says.
“A personal example I can give is the need to support my knees while getting back into playing golf. My knees were fairly cranky from the twisting motion of the golf swing. With that in mind, I’ve started to add in more regular yoga postures that keep the muscles that support the knee joint strong and resilient. I’m focusing on tracking patterns from feet to hips also, which means for me more non-weight bearing postures and attention to tracking of the knee in standing postures,” she says.
Hilliker explains that while we are born with a skeleton that can’t be changed by yoga, we can strengthen weak muscles and work to release chronically contracted muscles to support more optimal alignment for the knee joints.
“We can support our knees with circulation and lubrication,” she says. “We can explore movement patterns that may reduce or eliminate knee pain. We can work with what seems to be the right amount of weight-bearing movement that keeps us strong but doesn’t kick up inflammation.”
Another benefit of yoga is the ability to discern what is ok and manageable through reasonable means and what is too much and may require a procedure or surgery.
“I’ve often worked with clients where acceptance that it is time to get the knee replacement is part of our work together,” Hilliker says. “Once a decision becomes clear, conditioning the body and preparing for the surgery is then the focus of our work together. When someone is facing a knee replacement, it’s helpful to condition the body, learn stress and anxiety-reducing tools, and pain management techniques in advance of a surgery.”
Hilliker notes that if you have chronic and persistent pain, or an acute injury that creates significant pain or swelling, or heat and swelling or an accompanying fever, it should be checked out right away.
“Sometimes early interventions such as Physical Therapy or surgical procedures help you get back to being active, which in the long run helps your overall health in addition to the health of your knees,” she says.
Through its Video-on-Demand subscription program, 5 Koshas offers the Bee’s Knees yoga practice designed to be an excellent and efficient practice for those who spend a lot of hours standing, or as a conditioning practice for various sports. You can access the practice by purchasing a Video on Demand subscription ($14.99/month for 100 + yoga practices) here: https://5koshasyoga.punchpass.com/passes/165841?check=1674181922