Yoga For Knee Pain: What Poses Should You Avoid? And 10 Yoga Poses For Knee Pain

What are you are a regular yogi with a consistent Vinyasa practice or a runner, cyclist, or athlete of another sport with a recent knee injury or chronic knee pain, it can be helpful to know how to adapt yoga for knee pain to ensure you have a way to safely move your body while you rehab your injury.

Modifying yoga for knee pain allows you to have a way to work out while you give your knee time to heal. 

There are also certain yoga poses for knee pain that can increase the strength and stability in the muscles controlling the knee to help reduce the risk of knee pain and injuries and restore function to an injured knee.

In this guide to yoga for knee pain, we will discuss how to safely perform yoga with knee pain or knee injuries and how to use yoga to prevent knee pain.

We will look at: 

  • Can I Do Yoga With Knee Pain?
  • Common Knee Injuries
  • How Can Yoga Help Knee Pain
  • 10 Yoga Poses for Knee Pain
  • Practicing Yoga With Knee Pain
  • Yoga Poses to Avoid With Knee Pain

Let’s jump in!

woman lying back on her yoga mat holding her knees performing a yoga for knee pain exericse

Can I Do Yoga With Knee Pain?

In most cases, you can safely perform quite a few yoga poses even with knee pain. However, certain yoga poses are contraindicated with knee injuries or arthritis, and some poses require modification to reduce stress or pressure on the knees.

The best first course of action with any acute knee injury or persistent deep pain that will not go away is to consult your doctor or physical therapist for a possible diagnosis and any exercise restrictions or limitations.

A physical therapist can also help design a rehabilitation program to strengthen the surrounding muscles and correct any imbalances or mobility issues that might have contributed to your injury.

Common Knee Injuries

Knee pain is unfortunately common. An 2018 article in American Family Physician noted that 25% of adults in America suffer from knee pain, which is a 65% increase in the past 20 years.

a doctor holding a patients injured knee

The following are some of the most common knee injuries and causes of knee pain:

  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee)
  • Iliotibial band syndrome 
  • Meniscus tears
  • Ligament tears and sprains (ACL, MCL, LCL, PCL)
  • Knee bursitis
  • Baker’s cyst

3 ways Yoga can Help Knee Pain

Yoga can be a fantastic modality to alleviate knee pain and potentially prevent knee injuries.

#1: Yoga Can Reduce Knee Pain By Correcting Muscle Imbalances

Chronic knee pain, as well as many of the most common knee injuries in yogis, runners, cyclists, and other athletes, are often caused by imbalances in the muscles controlling the knee, hip, or ankle. 

When the strength of these muscles is imbalanced, they pull the knee or the surrounding joints (hips or ankles) out of alignment.

a woman wearing white doing a yoga quad stretch on her mat

For example, muscular imbalances and/or tightness can pull the knee cap  (patella) out of its proper alignment and contribute to the development of runner’s knee. 

The prevailing theories based on evidence to date are that either weakness in the quads, specifically the vastus medialis obliquus (VMO) or weakness in the hip abductor and external rotators causes malalignment of the patella and abnormal tracking when you run or walk.

When the IT band or lateral quad muscle, known as the vastus lateralis, overpowers the strength of the VMO, it tilts the patella and pulls it too far to the outside of the groove, causing compression and pain.

Weak hip abductors and external rotators allow your femur to rotate inward relative to the knee cap when you land in your running stride, causing abnormal tracking and pain.

Yoga is a great way to strengthen the muscles controlling the knee and hip and correct muscle imbalances caused by other repetitive exercises like running, cycling, and rowing. Yoga can also increase stability in the knee joint to ensure the kneecap tracks correctly in the patellar groove.

Yoga can also strengthen the hips, which enables you to keep your knees properly aligned under your hips rather than caving inward, increasing what is known as the Q angle. A large Q angle places stress on your IT band and knee joint, which can contribute to pain and osteoarthritis.

a woman doing a yoga warrior 2 pose in her gym

Yoga poses that strengthen your hip abductors help reduce the Q angle and optimize your joint alignment.

Studies have shown that yoga can improve the knee pain associated with osteoarthritis.

#2: Yoga Can Reduce Knee Pain By Increasing Mobility In Your Joints

Yoga can increase your mobility in the knees, hips, and ankles, which can improve your range of motion and help you move and feel better. 

Yoga poses can activate sensory receptors (such as muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTOs)) in muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These receptors then relay a signal to the spinal cord, which triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to relax the tissues.

The greater your range of motion and mobility, the more limber and spry you’ll feel, and the more natural and unencumbered your movements will be. If you’re a runner, cyclist, walker, hiker, rower, swimmer, or other participant of a repetitive-motion activity, better mobility can reduce the strain on your knees while you exercise.

a woman doing a seated forward fold on a yoga mat as part of a yoga for knee pain routine

#3: Yoga Can Reduce Knee Pain By Improving Balance and Proprioception 

Finally, yoga can reduce knee pain by improving balance, proprioception, body awareness, and stability. This is beneficial in a couple of ways. The better your body awareness and balance, the lower your risk of falls and accidental sports injuries.

Secondly, improvements in balance and proprioception help you move about your day—whether exercising, carrying groceries, getting into or out of a car, climbing stairs, or doing any other sort of activity—in a more biomechanically safe and optimal manner.

This will reduce your risk of injuries and abnormal stresses on your knee joint. By having a good innate sense of your body’s alignment, you’ll ensure the joint is lined up well when you use it, which puts your joints in a healthy alignment for the lines of stress and force going through them.

Yoga for Knee Pain – 10 Poses

There are many yoga poses that can help prevent knee pain by strengthening the muscles controlling the knee (quads, hamstrings, hip adductors, hip abductors, and calves) and hips and stabilizing the knee.

a woman wearing grey does a warrior 3 pose on a patio

The following are just a few of the great yoga poses for knee pain:

  • Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
  • Bridge Pose
  • Low Lunge
  • King Arthur’s Pose
a pregnant woman does a warrior 1 pose in a white room

5 tips for Practicing Yoga With Knee Pain

In general, it’s safe to practice yoga with knee pain, though some modifications will ensure your asanas do not place too much stress on an injured knee. Here are a few general considerations for doing yoga with knee pain or a knee injury:

1. Avoid hyperextending or locking your knees.

2. Avoid kneeling directly on your knees.

3. Ensure your hips, knees, and ankles are aligned or stacked when you load them (for example, when squatting in Chair Pose, make sure your knees are in line with your hips and feet, and not caving inward).

4. Keep your knees behind your toes when you squat, lunge, or bend your knees, such as when performing Warrior poses.

5. Listen to your body. If you have any pain when holding a pose, stop immediately.

a man does a seated forward fold yoga pose

yoga for knee pain- 10 poses to avoid

There are certain yoga poses to avoid, or at least modify, if you have an acute knee injury or weak, unstable, or chronically-painful knees. These poses can put undue stress and pressure on the knee joints, which can exacerbate an injury.

  • Tree Pose: Do not place your foot on the supporting knee; place it below on the shin.
  • Camel Pose: Avoid or kneel on a blanket or cushion.
  • Hero Pose: Avoid if it puts too much pressure on your knee.
  • Frog Pose: Avoid this pose as it places your knees at an angle that causes significant stress on the joint.
  • Eagle Pose: Avoid this pose because it twists the knee on the unsupported legs.
  • Triangle Pose: This pose can strain your knees but placing your back foot parallel to the front foot optimizes the alignment of the knees.
  • Lotus Pose: Avoid this pose because it causes extreme flexion of the knees.
  • Thunderbolt Pose: Avoid, as it can strain the knees.
  • Bound Angle Pose: This pose can put too much stress on your knee ligaments and cause osteoarthritis pain due to the high flexion angle.
  • Child’s Pose: Avoiding sitting too far backwards onto your heels, as this can place excessive compression on the knee joint.
a woman does a one legged wind relieving pose as part of a yoga for knee pain routine

There are quite a few other yoga poses that either place weight directly on your knees (by kneeling) or place the knees at unnatural or strained angles, but the above list should serve as a good starting place for examples of such poses.

Knee pain and knee injuries are highly variable from one person to the next, so experiment to find out what works and doesn’t work for you. Above all, stop any yoga pose that causes discomfort and consult your doctor or physical therapist for guidance if you have concerns.

For more yoga poses for knee pain, check out this yoga video for an entire yoga workout for those with knee pain.

Amber Sayer

Amber Sayer

Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.