It’s been a long winter and with the beginning of spring everyone is ready for some fun in the sun. After sitting in our warm homes all winter its time to stretch our legs and get outdoors. For some of us that means working outside gardening, cleaning the yard or taking a walk and breathing some fresh spring air. For others its getting back into shape and losing a few of the pounds gained this winter, anxious to get back into favorite sports like running, cycling, hiking, golfing etc. That first warm day you put on your sneakers and off you go, then it happens, you start to notice an ache in your knee.
Weak in the Knees - The knee marks the meeting place of three bones: the shinbone, the thighbone, and the kneecap. Two crescent-shaped pads of cartilage, each called a meniscus, sit between the shinbone and the thighbone and act as cushions between the bones and shock absorbers during movement. Two sets of ligaments crisscross below the kneecap and run alongside the outside of the kneecap and strap all three bones in place. The leg’s substantial muscles help these ligaments keep the bones properly aligned. No wonder so many of us experience knee pain!
What the Experts say - For years, experts have said leg strength is the best way to ward off knee problems. This is because the knee’s key muscular supports are the hamstrings, which run from the base of the pelvis down the back of the leg to just below the knee, and the quadriceps, the four muscles on the front of the thigh. At the first sign of the disease, doctors often instruct patients to build muscle tone and develop flexibility in the legs to delay cartilage deterioration and reduce pain.
What the studies say - According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in April 2003 in some cases, building leg strength doesn’t slow the disease’s progression, in fact, it increases it. Researchers tested 230 volunteers with osteoarthritis of the knee for quadriceps strength and knee alignment, and then retested them 18 months later. The results surprised the medical community: Many volunteers with strong quads also showed rapid cartilage deterioration.
But there was a catch—many who had strong quads and experienced a rapid progression of the disease also had misaligned kneecaps, a small but significant impairment that intensifies pressure on the cartilage. What the study highlights is the importance of evenly building the leg muscles to keep the joint properly aligned, a task for which yoga is perfect. If the muscular contraction between the two sides of the knee isn’t balanced, the knee rotates as it bends, which makes the joint pull toward the stronger muscle. Over time, this wears down one meniscus faster than the other and eventually damages the bone the cartilage protects.
How can you correct imbalances - One way to evenly engage the leg muscles is Chair pose with your back against a wall. Focus on lifting your toes and pressing down evenly through all four corners of the feet. Otherwise, the outer quadriceps do all the work and old patterns are reinforced. Another way to work on equalizing muscle use is by balancing on one foot with your eyes closed. “Without the orientation of the eyes, your feet and ankles have to find a true alignment to come into balance”
Why you need to keep moving - Without regular use, the cartilage protecting the knee joint becomes dry and brittle, making it vulnerable to decay. “Cartilage is like a sponge,” says William Roberts, M.D., president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine and associate professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota. “When you exercise, you squeeze the sponge, which allows it to soak up nutrients.”
Are all yoga classes the same - A consistent yoga practice, focusing on body awareness can strengthen and balance the joints. Certain forms of yoga are ideal for students recovering from knee injuries. These include Iyengar and Anusara (which focus on attention to detail) and Kripalu and Viniyoga (which focus on gentle compassion and healing). If you’re recovering from a knee injury or surgery, you might want to steer clear of practices that involve a lot of athleticism and quick transitions between poses until your recovery is complete. Regardless of the style you choose, make sure the teacher is knowledgeable about knees and willing to see you through the recovery process.
5 Ways to Protect Your Knees in a Yoga class
- Start With Your Feet: Proper alignment through the feet is the key to building strength evenly in the ligaments on both sides of the knee; when all the ligaments are equally strong, the kneecap glides effortlessly up and down and the cartilage doesn’t get worn down. Press actively through the four corners of your feet in every pose. If your feet are out of alignment, your knees are going to suffer.
- Keep Your Knees in Line: When moving into deep knee bends, such as Chair pose first align your bent knee over your ankle, make sure both knees are lined up evenly so your hips are also in alignment.
- Gently stretch your upper thighs: Tightness in hamstrings and quadriceps can create uneven pulling on the front and back of your knees. A few gentle lunges before any activity will help loosen up those powerful upper leg muscles.
- Tune in to Subtle Signals: listen to your body if you feel achiness when you go into or come out of a bent-knee pose, you may be working too hard.
- 5. Build Strength by Balancing: Balancing poses, especially those that require moving through a bent standing leg, such as Eagle pose, are especially beneficial. Dynamic balancing protects the knee against future injury by training the functional alignment, not just working the muscle.
If you are interested in learning more about yoga or attending a yoga class contact Ony Antonucci at 832-8249, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information at www.onyyoga.com or Facebook onyyoga. Ony is a E-200 hr Registered Yoga Teacher and Kripalu 500-hr RYT and is certified in the Meeks Method. Private and group classes are available on South Shore Road in Edinburg. Chair yoga classes are on Monday and Thursday mornings in Edinburg and Northville. Gentle yoga and yoga for athletes are on Tuesday evenings at the Johnstown YMCA.
It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps
a harvest in the Autumn. - B.C. Forbes
May the seeds you plant in your life reap a full, joyful and bountiful harvest. Namaste