The knees are a complex joint, and it’s essential to pay attention as soon as we experience pain, as pain is always a messenger.
The first step is to ascertain whether the pain arises due to muscle weakness, tightness in the surrounding muscles or if it’s s a result of inflammation.
Pain on deep flexion (crouching or sitting on your sheens or cross-legged) or when kneeling on the floor might indicate inflammation. The knees should be padded by doubling up the mat or having a blanket handy if kneeling, and deep flexion should be avoided until the pain subsides.
The thigh muscles are very large and strong, and sometimes they can be too tight without us knowing and cause strain on the knees.
Suppose the pain gets triggered by instability, for instance, on a 90 degrees angle on warrior poses or backwards overextension, for example, on triangle pose. In that case, that can indicate weakness; strengthening the knees and using the correct alignment is the best approach.
The knee is a hinge joint same as our elbows. They mainly perform flexion and extension, like the hinge of a door.
When doing yoga, the knee should not be forced into positions that would put it to do another movement apart from flexion and extension. One way of checking this is to see that the knee moves in alignment with the toes. For instance, if the toes are pointing forwards on a wide-legged forward fold, if we bend the knees, they will tend to go inwards, making an angle that is not quite a hinge movement. Instead, if the toes are pointing at a 45 degrees angles, the knees will easily bend on a wide-legged squat, which can help strengthen the knees.
Moving the knee will help it stay healthy. On the knee joint, we have synovial fluid which lubricates and cushions. Interestingly, the fluid inside the knee is a “non-Newtonian fluid,” which means it gets thicker (i.e. giving more protection to the joint) in response to pressure. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, synovial fluid may become thin and less effective. Yoga asanas cause synovial fluid to thicken, reducing pain and protecting joint structures such as cartilage.
A top tip from Ayurveda to take care of our joints is to rub them with warm sesame oil making circular motions, before a shower.
Having a Pada Abhyanga, a foot and leg massage or a focalised Basti therapy can really help with the knees.
Remember that the mind matters; try to change the way you refer to your pain ‘bad knees’ will show resistance to becoming ‘good’. Perhaps calling them ‘delicate knees,’ ‘knees in the healing process,’ or ‘knees in need of strength training’ can send a better message to the body to heal itself.