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Yoga For Bad Knees

Yoga For Bad Knees
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“Yup, they are crunchy all right,” the orthopedist said when he manipulated my knees during a recent visit.

“Is ‘crunchy’ a medical term?” I asked.

“Well, we say they ‘snap, crackle and pop’ and that means you’ll need new knees sometime, but you’ll want to put that operation off for as long as you can. The knees only last about 15 years and you are too young. You don’t want to have to get another set again when you are 70 and then 85.”

So what to do for Rice Krispie knees in the meantime? Yoga can help.

If you hear that “crunchiness” when you extend or bend your knees, or if they hyperextend or hurt all the time, you may have dislocation of the kneecap—also called improper tracking. This develops slowly over a long period and is caused by the kneecap going “off track”. It is supposed to slide along a groove in the femur, but when it pops out (in my case, two falls on the NYC ice didn’t help), it grinds away the cartilage underneath and makes the knee unstable.

Now, here’s a fact you rarely hear: Cartilage, even at our age, can grow back. It just grows back more slowly than in our youth. The trick is to keep the cartilage from grinding down faster than our bodies can build it back up. One way to slow down the process is through Hatha Yoga.

The problem with some knees is found in the quadriceps. Four muscles, just above the knees, merge and form one quadriceps tendon. This tendon surrounds the kneecap and attaches to it and then continues down to attach to the shinbone. The whole apparatus goes like a pulley down over your kneecap and helps the quadriceps straighten and lower your leg. Trouble comes when that pulley’s rope is out of place and pulls sideways on the kneecap, causing friction.

The standing poses of Hatha Yoga can help but you should always check with your doctor or medical practitioner first and make sure you have a certified yoga teacher, since some asanas when attempted with a misaligned knee can make things worse.

Because we have overdevelpeed outer thigh muscles, the innermost quadriceps tend to be weak and underused. Strengthening these will help your knee problems. But first you have to find them. Put a sticky mat rolled under your knees to prevent hyperextension. Sit with your legs extended outward. Rotate your leg out 10 degrees (as though the sole of your foot were a clock face, your toes pointing to one o’clock). Put your fingers one inch above the inner corner of your kneecap, then walk your fingers one and a half inches towards your inner thigh. Straighten your leg to feel your quadriceps. You are trying to feel when a teardrop-shaped muscle under your fingers firm up. That is your inner quadriceps. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds and release. Do it two more times, but not so hard you lock your knee. Now do it with your other leg. You can do this excercise a few times a day, gently.

Next try the Warrior Pose, but make certain you are properly aligned. Your feet should be wide apart, underneath your wrists, with your arms extended to the side. Turn your left foot out 30 degrees and your right leg out 90. Keep your torso upright as you bend your right knee and make sure your knee does not go beyond your toes. Keep your shin vertical and your thigh parallel to the floor, so your leg is bent at a right angle. Turn your head to look out over your right fingertips.

Don’t let our thigh turn inward, so that the knee points to the big toe. It will cause stress on your inner knee and defeat your purpose. Conversely, make sure you don’t put your weight on the outer edge of your foot, making your knee point to your little toe, else you will stress your outer knee.

Keep your knee bent to a right angle and your weight centered in your heel. If you need to grip your toes, you knee is too far beyond your heel. If your foot’s inner arch collapses, you are turning your knee inward too much. Keep your inner heel and big toe grounded and the inner arch of your foot lifted. Lastly, make sure your hip joint, kneecap and heel of the bent leg are all positioned so that, if you were doing this pose next to a wall, all three would be touching it. When you bend your knee, let your outer hip lower towards the floor and allow a slight turn of the hips.

These two simple yoga exercises can help overcome the imbalances that come to many of us as we get older and strengthen a little-used muscle that might just help keep the orthopedic surgeon away… for a while at least.


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