top of page

Is Yoga Good for My Knees?

[ read time < 5 minutes + VIDEOs ]

My client Sarah (not her real name) was in her late 40s and had been a distance runner since she was a teen. She also did a lot of cross training-- swimming, yoga, and weight-lifting. After a typical trail run, she noticed her left knee was feeling stiff and swollen. She was traveling for work the following week so she decided to take it easy for several days.

Walking while she was out-of-town felt fine. When Sarah returned home, she jogged for less than 30 minutes-- half her normal distance. Her knee felt fine during her run, but the next morning she woke up with more swelling. And it was painful as she took two flights of stairs up to her office.

Sarah went to her doctor who referred her to an orthopedist. She had X-rays and an MRI--which she was told were both “normal.” At her orthopedist’s recommendation, she went to physical therapy twice a week. A month later, she received a cortisone injection and went back to physical therapy for another month. She saw a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, and a massage therapist. And she underwent laser and heat treatments. Nothing she tried eliminated her left knee pain.

Feeling frustrated, Sarah made an appointment with another orthopedist to get a second opinion. She had a second MRI, and this time it showed some cartilage damage. She was told she wasn’t a candidate for surgery and was given another referral to physical therapy.

Sarah was wary of trying physical therapy a third time. She was unimpressed with the exercises she was given to do while lying on the tables at the clinic. And as soon as she tried to perform the shallow squats that were recommended, her symptoms returned with a vengeance.

Scouring the internet, Sarah began reading blogs, responses to questions posted on knee pain forums, and eventually my colleague’s book. The concepts in The Runner’s Knee Bible made sense to Sarah, but she wanted someone to answer questions that were unique to her situation.

Since she didn’t live near my office in Austin, Texas, Sarah met with me for twenty minutes via online video. We determined she was a good candidate for my coaching services.

Over the first month that we worked together, Sarah eliminated the stiffness, swelling, and pain in her left knee. And while she had not yet returned to trail running, she was back in the pool swimming laps.

In a previous post, I explained how activating core muscles is important for people with knee pain. So I prescribed core exercises for Sarah.

Sarah asked if she could return to her favorite yoga class instead. (In her mind, yoga would accomplish the same thing as core exercises.) Sarah’s question was a good one, but it didn’t have a straightforward answer.

Studies have shown that specific yoga poses can turn on the core muscles, but I knew some yoga poses would currently make Sarah’s knee hurt.

Sarah and I discussed the pros and cons of returning to yoga-- including the poses that she could perform safely, those that she would need to modify, and the poses she would need to avoid for a while longer.

Sarah recalled that her favorite yoga instructor often had the class rest in Child’s Pose or sit in the Lotus position. These were relaxing for Sarah, but I explained that both of them placed more pressure on her knee than it would currently tolerate. Both of these poses would likely cause pain either during or afterwards. Instead, I suggested she rest in Corpse Pose or sit in Staff Pose.

Given the current health of her left knee, I thought Sarah could safely perform Cobra, Low or High Plank, and Downward-Facing Dog.

However when performing Tree Pose, I recommended that she modify it by placing the bottom of her left foot just above her right inner ankle rather than on her right inner thigh. This would protect her left knee because she wouldn’t need to bend it as much.

I also explained that to prevent knee pain, she would need to avoid poses that required her to sustain body weight on her left leg while that knee was bent-- such as during Warrior I, Warrior II, and Eagle Pose.

Sarah was concerned that she would spend too much energy during yoga class evaluating what was okay for her knees. She decided the modifications would disrupt what she valued most about yoga-- what she described as “the absence of thought and being present in the moment.”

Even though some yoga poses would strengthen her core, Sarah held off on resuming her practice. She continued to work with me until her left knee joint was healthier and she could complete a yoga class without causing knee pain.

Watch these two videos to see some of the core exercises that Sarah performed:

For more information on safely strengthening your knees, read How to Grow Strong Knee Joints and Can You Rebuild Knee Cartilage?


My colleague, Doug Kelsey, PT, PhD, and I have developed Better Knees for Life, a program for people with tolerable knee pain. Better Knees for Life offers step-by-step instructions that can be performed at home with very little equipment.

What people are saying about Better Knees for Life :

"...well thought out, easy to understand and implement."

"It is almost like a computer algorithm. (That's how clear it is!)"

"BKL (Better Knees for Life) is an outstanding program -- with graded exercise programs and guidelines for advancing, and outstanding support with the Zoom sessions."

"I've already recommended BKL to 2-3 friends because of the noticeable difference in reducing pain in my left knee."

Better Knees for Life helps you get stronger, feel better and maybe best of all, feel more in control of your life.

To determine if working with me is a good fit for you to restore your active life, schedule a Strategy Session by clicking here.

Help your friends: share these insights on social media by clicking a button below.

Recent Posts

See All

Do knee gel injections💉work?

Carol* was recently telling me about her knees. Over the past couple of years, her knees had become "achy." They weren't constantly uncomfortable, but they were noticeably painful when she knelt down

bottom of page