Yoga is a wonderful way to strengthen the body and add flexibility, but it can be a daunting task for those suffering from knee pain. Even those who are experienced in yoga often worry that they will be in pain during poses. The good thing is that there are plenty of yoga poses that will help alleviate knee pain, whether you practice yoga regularly or not.
If you are struggling with knee pain, there are many yoga poses to try that can stretch the muscles around the knees, such as:
- Warrior I and II
- Triangle and Pyramid
- Mountain and Chair
- Reclined hand to toe
Quality yoga practice can make a huge difference in daily life, especially if you suffer from chronic pain. Many yoga poses offer incredible benefits through lessening knee pain. Whether you regularly practice yoga or are just looking for relief, these yoga poses can help decrease knee pain.
Before You Start
You need to know how to safely practice yoga before you jump into any poses. Luckily, yoga does not require many materials, and there are plenty of resources to learn yoga from. Many yoga sequences are available in videos or books for guidance.
The most important thing to remember about yoga is that you should listen to your body. You will find that your body will feel a little bit different every time you practice. This means that your limits on one day might be more restrictive than another day.
It is easy to compare ourselves to others or even to our past selves, but this serves no purpose for the practice of yoga. Listen to your body and know when you have reached a limit. This is particularly important when you first start doing yoga and get your body adjusted to yoga.
General Cautions About Yoga and Pain
When you have knee pain, you do not want to somehow make it worse when you try to make it better. Alignment is very important in yoga, so you have to focus on how to keep your body straight. Keep this in mind if you have one knee that hurts a lot more than the other. It signals unbalance in your body.
It is also a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before you start doing any yoga to make sure it is safe for you to do so. Seek instruction or guidance from a yoga teacher if you need help understanding how to do the yoga poses.
Remember that chronic knee pain is not always instantly decreased. You may find immediate relief from some yoga poses, or your body might need more time to feel changes.
What Do I Need?
In theory, you can do yoga without any materials or supplies. But, since we are specifically looking to get some relief from knee pain, it is helpful to have a few yoga props to make the practice more effective:
- Yoga mat: If you are going to use any tools for your yoga practice, it should be a yoga mat. This will provide cushion and better support for your body during practice.
- Yoga block(s): One or two yoga blocks can be helpful for added support and stability.
- Yoga strap: A yoga strap can be beneficial when you need assistance stretching.
- Foam roller: You may find that a foam roller works well for your body before and/or after a yoga practice.
- Mirror: If you can get access to a body-length or larger mirror, it will greatly help with properly aligning your body and checking your form.
You can also use household items if you do not want to buy separate equipment. A beach towel can be a great substitute for a yoga mat, and you can use nearby furniture to stabilize yourself instead of a yoga block.
12 Yoga Poses for Knee Pain
Find a place with enough room for you to move around comfortably without hitting any objects. You can approach these yoga poses in a couple of ways:
- Perform the poses in this order to form a sequence
- Incorporate the poses into your general yoga practice
- Mix up the order to better fit your need
- Choose two or three poses to work on for one practice
It is entirely up to you to try these yoga poses in a way that works for you. It may be easier to start with only a few poses per session if you are not accustomed to doing yoga, but you can do as much or as little as you feel you can handle.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Mountain pose is one of the staples in any yoga practice. It can seem like a basic move that does not really do anything, but when you do it right, Tadasana can help with knee pain. This pose is great for alignment of the body, which can impact knee pain.
Mountain pose is a standing pose:
- Keep your big toes touching and your heels slightly apart.
- Allow your spine to lengthen as you stand tall, pulling your shoulder blades down and back from your ears.
- Soften your eye gaze and keep your chin parallel to the ground beneath you.
To get the benefits of this pose for your knees, focus on keeping your legs aligned. Check that you are not turning your knees in or out. Instead of locking your knees when you straighten your posture more, pull your kneecaps up.
It can be a little tricky at first to get used to lifting the kneecaps, but it keeps your body from straining your knees when you are standing. Mountain pose can be used as a resting pose as well, but you typically will only hold Tadasana for a couple of breath cycles.
Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Another key yoga pose is forward fold. In this pose, you can again work on lifting your kneecaps. Forward fold frequently follows or precedes mountain pose as a transition pose.
Starting from Tadasana, hinge forward at your hips. If you have the flexibility, keep your legs strength. Otherwise, bend your knees until you can reach the ground with your fingertips. Let your head hang heavy.
You can work on knee pain while in a forward fold in a couple of ways:
- If you have enough flexibility to reach the ground without bending your knees, keep your knees soft. Alternate straightening each knee and lifting the opposite hand to the sky.
- If your knees must be bent for you to reach the floor, focus on aligning them. Make sure that you do not drop more weight into one knee than the other. Inequal distribution will cause one hip to drop, and that can cause more knee pain overall.
Forward fold pose also stretches your thigh muscles, which takes tension off your knees. You can stay in a forward fold for as long as you would like to, but for the purposes of helping your knee pain, stay for at least thirty seconds so that your body can really settle into the pose.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Like mountain pose and forward fold, downward facing dog is a classic yoga pose that offers many benefits. This pose works well for stretching the backs of the legs. When the other muscles surrounding the knee are less taut, there is less pressure put on the knees.
To work on your downward facing dog pose, plant your hands shoulder width apart on the yoga mat. Spread your fingers wide and push down evenly. Spreading your fingers will take some of the weight off your wrists.
For the rest of the pose positioning:
- Keep your feet hip width apart.
- Your weight should be directed down your legs as you sink your heels toward the yoga mat.
- Your hips and knees should be square to the front of your body.
Stretching your heels down to the mat while keeping your hips square will put your legs and knees in the proper alignment. It can also help to counteract effects of standing with improper posture for long periods of time.
Downward facing dog is often used in yoga sequences and repeatedly throughout a practice. For a shorter, more issue-specific practice such as a session for knee pain, you can try holding downward facing dog for several breath cycles.
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
This pose transitions best from mountain pose or forward fold. As with mountain pose, your big toes should be touching, and your heels should be slightly apart. Stand up tall and with your shoulders back.
To transition into chair pose:
- Sink your weight back into your heels as you bend your knees.
- The ultimate goal is to have your thighs parallel to the ground, but this may not be achievable at first.
- Be sure that your knees are aligned with your ankles and that your knees do not extend past your toes when you look down. This is usually what prevents people from reaching that parallel level with their thighs.
- Reaching your arms up overhead, stretching your spine in opposite directions.
The biggest thing to focus on in chair pose is really sinking your weight into your heels. If you do not sink your weight into your heels in chair pose, the weight is shifted to the front of your feet. This not only decreases your stability, but it also puts unnecessary strain on your knees.
As with other yoga poses that focus on the knees, keep your hips square and do not drop more weight into one knee than the other.
Aim to hold this pose for three to five rounds of breath at a time.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
Warrior poses in yoga are great for strengthening the leg muscles, which helps to take pressure off of the knees. Warrior I is one of these poses that really strengthens the inner thighs and hamstrings.
To get into Warrior I, you will usually start from either mountain pose or downward facing dog. We will focus on the transition from downward facing dog to Warrior I because it is a little easier to set up the distance that way.
Starting in downward facing dog and looking forward to the space in between your hands:
- Step one foot forward to the space in between your hands.
- Rise to stand, keeping a bend in the front knee and straightness in the back leg.
- Reach up overhead and stretch your arms to the sky.
- Your back foot should be angled slightly outward with your heel on the ground. Push weight into the heel side of the back foot.
Proper Positioning is Key in Warrior Poses
The position of your front leg in Warrior I is key. Your knee should be pointed forward at a ninety-degree angle. This positioning engages all the proper muscles around your knee and makes them stronger.
A few tips to get the most out of Warrior I:
- Keep your front knee stacked over the ankle so that it does not turn inward or outward.
- You should be able to see your toes on your front foot. If you cannot see your toes when you look down, then your knee is too far forward.
- Your weight should be distributed between the front heel and the back heel. To make sure that your weight is in the heel of the front foot and not somewhere else, try to lift your toes up and wiggle them. If you cannot, then the weight is in the front of your foot and not in the heel where it is supposed to be.
Warrior I is a powerful strengthening pose, and it works well if you stay in the position for five rounds of breath or more when you are working on releasing knee pain. You can go straight from Warrior I to Warrior II and then switch sides or do both sides of Warrior I right away.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
As its name suggests, Warrior II is a very similar pose to Warrior I. Often, yoga sequences feature a transition straight from Warrior I to Warrior II in an “opening up” fashion. For purposes of explaining Warrior II by itself, we will describe the pose as if you were starting from downward facing dog.
Again, from downward facing dog, look forward to the space in between your hands:
- Step one foot forward to the space between your hands.
- Leaving the back foot slightly angled outward, rise as if to stand.
- Keep the front leg bent so that the knee is at a ninety-degree angle.
- Instead of reaching up overhead as in Warrior I, open your arms and face the side of your yoga mat.
For instance, if you started with your right foot forward, you would continue the pose like this:
- Hold your arms parallel to the ground with your right arm reaching forward and your left arm back.
- Your chest will twist open to the left, but you will gaze forward over your right hand.
In Warrior II, it is really easy for your front knee to tip inwards. This is not the proper alignment and will likely cause discomfort even for people who do not have knee problems. Focus on keeping that right angle in your front leg while keeping the knee stacked over the ankle.
When you keep the front knee in line with your ankle and can still see your toes on that foot, then you are in proper alignment. Warrior II thus strengthens the muscles around your knee and stabilizes the knee as well.
Hold this pose for several rounds of breath. If you came straight from Warrior I, go back and run through Warrior I and Warrior II on the other side of your body. Otherwise, go straight to doing Warrior II on the opposite side of your body.
Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Similar in position to the warrior poses, the triangle pose works to stabilize the knee while stretching out the nearby leg muscles. For triangle pose, you may want to have a block or substitute object to help balance yourself. It is also called extended side angle triangle pose.
The easiest way to get into triangle pose is to move from Warrior II into the triangle position. These two poses have the same distance between the feet, so they transition together nicely.
From Warrior II:
- Straighten your front leg, being careful not to lock the back of the knee. You may need to keep a slight bend in this front leg.
- Keep the toes on your front foot pointed forward. Your back foot should be turned slightly toward the long side of the yoga mat.
- If your right foot is the front leg, hinge over that leg from your hip so that your right arm reaches down to the ground and your left arm goes up to the sky. You can place the hand on the mat, your ankle or shin, or on a yoga block.
- Do your best to lift the kneecaps and draw them up your thighs.
Triangle pose stretches and strengthens the inner thigh muscles, hips, and hamstrings as the pose stabilizes the knee. Stay in triangle pose for at least five full rounds of breath before switching to the other side.
Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana)
The last standing pose that we will cover for combatting knee pain is the pyramid pose. It is also very similar to Warrior I, Warrior II, and triangle pose. These four yoga poses are almost like variations of each other, but they all serve similar purposes in different ways.
You can transition from Warrior I, Warrior II, or triangle pose to the pyramid pose quite easily. For this explanation of pyramid pose, we will start as if in Warrior I. Remember, in Warrior I, you will have your front leg bent at a ninety-degree angle, your back foot angled slightly outward, and your arms reaching up directly overhead.
To move from Warrior I to pyramid:
- You can lower your arms to your sides at the beginning of the transition or later on.
- Keeping your body squared to the front of your yoga mat or space, bump your back foot in so that it is about halfway to your front foot compared to its starting place.
- Maintain the slightly outward angle of the back foot.
- Reach behind your back and gently interlace your fingers. Hinge forward at the hips over the front leg. Keep your spine flat and do not bend further when you feel your back start to curve.
Your arms will naturally float off your back as you hinge forward. You can either have your front leg completely straight (without it locking) or have a gentle bend. It can be really easy to dip your weight onto one hip in pyramid pose, so be sure to keep your body square to the front.
Pyramid pose stretches the hamstrings and hips. Loosening muscles in the thigh and hip area can often be quite helpful for reducing knee pain. Hold this pose for three to five rounds of breath before doing the same thing on the other side of your body.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
The first seated or reclined pose for knee pain that we will cover is bridge pose. You can do bridge pose in its standard format or use a block for modifications. Standard bridge pose is good for alleviating knee pain, and modified bridge pose helps strengthen the knees.
To practice standard or basic bridge pose:
- Lay on your back, setting your feet flat on the ground as close to your glutes as possible. Your knees will be bent and point to the sky.
- Place each hand facedown next to your legs.
- Push your feet into the ground so that your tailbone lifts up. The ideal pose will have a straight line from your knees to your chest.
If you feel like you need more support for your back, you can place a block underneath your lower spine or prop your back up slightly with your hands.
For a bridge pose modification that strengthens the knees:
- Lay on your back as you normally would but place a yoga block between your thighs.
- Squeeze your inner thighs together around the block and lift into bridge pose.
- Keep your core and inner thighs engaged.
For either version of bridge pose, hold the position for five to ten breath cycles.
Hero’s Pose (Virasana)
One of the most effective yoga poses for relieving knee pain, hero’s pose, is also one of the most intense for those with painful knees. You may want to have a yoga block available for this pose.
Start by kneeling so that your upper body is straight, and your shins are flat on the ground:
- Slowly sink your weight back toward the ground and your calves.
- Continue to sink down until you reach the ground but rest your body to the inside of your ankles, not on top of them.
- It may be too much for your body to sit directly on the ground, so use a block to find the right positioning for your body.
This pose stretches your thigh muscles very well, and it is a counter stretch to downward facing dog. Try holding this pose for ten cycles of breath before transitioning to downward facing dog.
Reclined Hand to Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
This reclined pose often is benefitted by the use of a yoga strap. If you do not have an actual yoga strap, you can use a scarf or other long piece of fabric that you do not mind stretching out a bit.
For reclined hand to toe pose:
- Lay on your back with your legs flat on the ground.
- Lift one leg so that the heel is pointed toward the sky.
- With a yoga strap on the ball of the foot or with your hand behind your thigh, slowly push through your heel as you pull your leg toward your chest.
- Hold each side for at least thirty seconds.
This pose helps to stretch out the entire leg, including the knee area.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This final yoga pose helps with knee pain by stretching the outer hips. Sitting in an easy seated position, take one leg and cross it over the other thigh, planting the foot flat on the ground.
If you are starting with your right leg crossed over the left thigh:
- Gently twist so that your left elbow is on the outside of your right knee.
- Reach out behind yourself with your left arm as a light support.
- Gently stay here for a few breaths and then do the other side.
Be careful not to twist too deeply or suddenly, twisting from the upper back.
Hopefully, some of these yoga poses will give you some relief for your knee pain. Remember these key elements:
- Listen to your body and its limits.
- Focus on keeping your body aligned.
- Stretch the muscles around the knees to relieve pressure.