Even if yoga isn't your thing, there are poses and stretches that can help you with other types of fitness. For example, if you're a runner or do a lot of impact activity, you might find you're feeling it in your knees. These very simple yoga stretches are designed to help ease knee pain, strengthen your knee joint and help you avoid pain and injury in the future.
You're probably thinking, 'A stretch cannot strengthen my knee joint, it's made of bone', and you are correct. Instead, these stretches focus on activating the muscles surrounding the knee bones, to build them up and provide support around the joint.
There is some special equipment that you might want to invest in if you're going to be adopting these exercises as part of your regular routine. One of the poses uses a yoga block, another uses a yoga towel, and of course, investing in one of the best yoga mats is an easy way to keep your joints happy and cushioned through any stretching routine. That said, you don't actually need any of those things to do these stretches – there are household alternatives you can sub in, and they're explained in the blurb for each stretch. So even if you're totally equipment-free, you're good to go. Here are the best stretches for knee pain.
The routine comes from perpetually cheerful yoga teacher Idan Kirshner, who says that after a week of doing these stretches, his knee pain disappears. While they're also gentle stretches, obviously do go carefully and don't continue if you're feeling pain while doing them, and if you have serious issues with your knees, seek advice from a professional.
1. Seated leg raise
The first move focuses on the quad muscles on the front upper leg. For this you need a towel rolled into a chunky cylinder (if you have yoga towel, use that, or if not, a bath towel will work fine). Sitting on your mat, place your left leg out in front of you, with the towel underneath the knee. The right leg can be bent for support. Then, with your foot flexed at all times, activate the quad muscle to raise the lower leg. Hold for a second or two, then slowly release.
Repeat 10x or 20x, before switching to the other leg. Idan stresses that it's important to do both sides, even if you only have one sore knee, to avoid pain developing in the other knee too.
The second exercise targets the lower glute muscles and the muscles that run from them down the leg towards the knees. This move, like the next two, is based on the traditional bridge pose, so you want to start lying on your back with your feet flat on the ground (you should just be able to brush your ankles with your fingertips).
For the first stretch, angle your feet at 45-degrees (so at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock) with the toes pointing outwards. Then raise your hips into a bridge pose. Try to raise and lower with control, tilting the pelvis first, then rolling up one vertebrae at a time, and squeezing your glute muscles on the way up.
Repeat 20x, until you feel your glute muscles working and it starts to get tough (if 20x isn't enough for that, up the reps).
3. Narrow bridge
The second variation is to keep your feet and legs together. This targets a slightly different area of muscle in your upper legs. Follow the same pattern of controlled raising and lowering, and again, repeat enough times that it starts to feel tough, and your muscles are activated.
4. Bridge with brick
The fourth and final stretch for knee pain is another bridge variation, this time bringing a yoga brick into the equation. If you don't have one, you can use the towel from exercise one, or Idan suggests a football. Place the block between your thighs, then squeeze with your leg muscles it as you raise and lower in and out of the bridge pose. This version focuses the effort on the muscles on the inside of the thigh.
For more stretches to avoid injury in your legs, try these stretches for ankle strength, and some more yoga poses for runners. You also need to make sure you're properly supported around your feet, so head to our best running shoes guide for our footwear recommendations.