Stretch exercises such as those listed below can help relieve pain and stiffness in arthritic knees, helping seniors retain mobility. The following stretch exercises can be performed independently, or as part of a full yoga routine. Seniors with arthritic knees may find it difficult to keep up with a full yoga class in a gym or studio, but a few stretch exercises every day can make a big difference. Yoga can be great exercise for any age and any body type. As with any new exercise routine, check with your doctor before trying these exercises, and seek the guidance of a certified yoga instructor if possible.
1. Sitting on the Floor (Sukhasana/Easy Seat)
According to certified yoga instructor Suza Francina’s article on Yoga for Arthritis, one of the best remedies for arthritis in the knees is to sit on the floor at least once every day. Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, choosing to not sit on the floor will increase stiffness in the knees over time. To make sitting on the floor more comfortable, place folded blankets or a phone book under your hips to elevate your pelvis and straighten your spine. A simple cross-legged position is fine- do not strain your knees by attempting complicated positions such as Lotus Pose. Have a friend or family member help you if you have trouble getting up and down off the floor. For more information about how to do this stretch exercise for arthritic knees, click here: www.yogajournal.com
2. Strengthening the Quadriceps (Virabhadrasana II/Warrior 2)
The quadriceps are the muscles in the front of your thigh, and having weak quadriceps is a risk factor for developing arthritis in the knees. Francina recommends standing yoga poses, such as Warrior 2 pose, to strengthen the quadriceps and support the knees. For details about how to do Warrior 2 pose, click here: www.yogajournal.com To keep your knees safe in this pose, make sure your knee does not extend forward of the foot– keep your knee behind your toes! Also, watch your right knee, and make sure it does not fall in toward center– press the knee out toward your pinkie toe. Always do this pose on both sides of the body, first with the right knee bent, then with the left knee bent. If you find it is challenging to balance in this pose, use a chair to help maintain your balance.
3. Strengthening the Quadriceps (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana/Bridge Pose)
Another stretch exercise for arthritic knees is the basic bridge pose. For details about how to perform this pose, click here: www.yogajournal.com. This pose is safe for most people, but if you have had a neck injury, check with your doctor first. To make sure that you are using your quadriceps (thigh muscles) rather than your gluteals (buttocks muscles) in this pose, use a yoga block or a rolled up towel and place it between your thighs. Squeeze the block or towel with your thighs and internally rotate your thighs so the backs of your thighs widen. This stretch exercise is also great for increasing circulation, stretching your chest and relieving backache.
4. Stretching the Quadriceps (Standing Quad Stretch)
As important as it is to strengthen the quadriceps, it is equally important to lengthen them by stretching. One of the easiest quadriceps stretches for arthritic knees is the standing quad stretch. For details about how to perform this stretch, click here: www.sparkpeople.com Stand near a wall if you have trouble balancing. This stretch can also be done while lying on your stomach (www.yogajournal.com) or on your side, so long as it does not create pain in your lower back.
5. Stretching the Quadriceps (Virasana/Seated Hero Pose)
Done correctly, this stretch can be one of the most healing poses for the knees, but done wrong, it can make things worse. To learn how to do this pose properly, click here: www.yogajournal.com. For arthritic knees, use lots of padding in this pose, both under the knees and under the buttocks, and come out of the pose if you feel pain in the knee. Be sure to keep your knees parallel with your hips– a tendency in this pose is for the knees to splay apart, which can cause damage to your knees. The purpose of this pose for arthritic knees is to increase blood flow to the knee joint and to stretch the quadriceps, which are muscles that help support the knee.
Have you tried these stretch exercises for arthritic knees? Please leave a comment below and let us know how they worked for you!
Eldr; Yoga for Arthritis: Guidelines and Cautions; Suza Francina; 2008 http://www.eldr.com/article/fitness/yoga-arthritis-guidelines-and-cautions
Eldr; Yoga, the Antidote for Arthritis; Suza Francina; 2008 http://www.eldr.com/article/fitness/yoga-antidote-arthritis
Yoga Journal; Thighs Matter; Julie Gudmestad http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/1160
Yoga Journal; Pose Gallery