When your knees are screaming in pain from arthritis, the last thing you want to do is get up and move, and certainly not twist yourself up in crazy yoga poses. The Mayo Clinic says that even “though you might think exercise will aggravate your joint pain and stiffness, that’s not the case. Lack of exercise actually can make your joints even more painful and stiff.”
A great option for a low-impact exercise is gentle yoga! The chair yoga poses shown below will focus specifically on yoga for arthritic knees.
Why Practice Yoga for Arthritic Knees?
In gentle yoga, the phrase “Motion is Lotion” is very common to hear. Movement helps to circulate synovial fluid, a clear, viscous fluid in your joints (the “lotion”). This fluid is what fills the space between the cartilage and bones so they can move painlessly.
Synovial fluid is “important because it delivers nutrients and oxygen to the hyaline cartilage”, which doesn’t have its own blood supply. So, motion keeps your cartilage well-nourished and that means less joint pain for you!
Not only is movement important for joints, but relaxing muscles and tendons that are chronically tight and tense by gentle stretching can relieve some of the strain on your tendons (which connect your muscles to your bones). Other muscles that are typically overstretched and weak – like your hamstrings – need to be strengthened.
If you look at the picture of the leg muscles, it’s easy to remember that the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your leg are all connected. They are not just separate muscles that work alone. So, helping the muscles surrounding your knee can help the knee move a little more freely.
As you correct these imbalances, your posture improves! Blood and fluids can flow through your body easier when your posture is better and your muscles are balanced.
Before Starting the Yoga Poses
Please consult with your doctor first to know if these yoga exercises are gentle enough for your body. But most importantly, start slowly and always listen to the signals your body sends you. If there is any pain, please stop the exercise and move on to another one.
Practicing a little bit every day will bring the most benefits – they should take less than 15 minutes to complete all of them.
#1 – Massage Leg Muscles: Warm & relax tight muscles
Sit on a chair. Begin massaging your thighs – front, back and sides – between your hips and knees. Use your hands or a roller massage stick like this one. Spend about 30-60 seconds massaging each thigh.
Bend your leg up towards you or reach down towards the lower leg and start to massage your calf muscles. Use your thumb to press next to your shinbone towards the outside of your body. Again, spend 30-60 seconds massaging each lower leg.
#2 – Knee Extension and Flexion: Move synovial fluid
Move your body so you are sitting on the edge of your chair. Either one at a time or both together, slide your foot out as far as your knee will comfortably allow. Hold for 2-3 seconds, then slide your foot back and under you as far as your knee is comfortable. Again holding for 2-3 seconds. Move slowly and mindfully and work up to 10 reps.
#3 – Buttock Clenches: Strengthen glutes
Clench your buttocks together and hold for 3-5 seconds. You should feel your body rise a little off the chair. Do between 5 and 20 reps of this exercise.
Keep one foot flat on the floor, and slide the other foot out as far as you can comfortably straighten your knee. Clench your buttocks (just like the last exercise) and keep them tight as you fold forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, the back of your thigh. Using your breath, inhale back up and exhale to lean forward, squeezing your glutes as you lean.
#5 – ½ Downward Dog: Stretch the calf muscles
Stand up and place your hands on the seat of the chair or the back of the chair. Step one foot back 12-24” and gently press your heel towards the floor. Hold this position for 3-5 full breaths once you find a nice stretch. Remember to do the other leg as well!
#6 – Quad Stretch
Stay standing and hold on to the back of your chair. Using your hand, a yoga strap, or a long strap (like a necktie, dog leash, robe belt, etc.), bend your knee and reach for your ankle. If you cannot reach, just wrap the strap around your ankle (see picture), and this will make it easier. Feel the stretch on the front of your thigh. You can experiment with clenching the buttocks here as well and notice how it changes the stretch. Stay here for 3-5 full breaths and then release slowly and mindfully. Move to other leg.
#7 – Standing Modified Camel: Stretch the psoas muscle
Stand behind your chair and hold on to the back. Step your right foot back about 12” and keep your heel lifted. You might feel a stretch in the front of your right hip. If that’s enough of a stretch, then stay here. Or, start lifting your right hand straight in front and raise it up towards the sky. Count 3-5 full breaths before moving to the left side.
#8 – Body Scan
Sit back down in your seat and close your eyes. Start to notice your breath – feel your chest rising with your inhales and falling with your exhales. Do a quick body scan and notice what you feel.
Practice these gentle chair yoga exercises a couple times a week. But please, listen to your body. Start slowly and mindfully, working your way up to more reps or more practices per week.
Please let me know your experiences with these exercises in the comments below! I look forward to hearing from you!