Knee pain and yoga poses aren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea but, believe it or not, there are several of them that relieve pressure on the joint while strengthening it at the same time.
One study even shows how practicing yoga, if you have knee osteoarthritis, can improve your strength, flexibility, and mobility – which, of course, can translate to a better quality of life. (1)
So, below, we will be looking at some of the best yoga poses to help with knee pain as well as other related topics, including poses that you may want to avoid and why your knees might hurt during your sessions. Are you ready? Let’s get this class started!
Top 10+ yoga poses for knee pain
1. Supta Padangusthasana
Otherwise known as the Reclined Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose, this asana stretches both knees equally because it doesn’t involve hip rotation, abduction, and adduction. This, in turn, allows you to stretch your hamstrings without putting too much pressure on your lower back.
You will need:
- Yoga strap (optional)
- Yoga block (optional)
How to do the Supta Padangusthasana:
- Lie on your back with your legs stretched out and your toes pointing to the ceiling. Let your lower back curve as it would naturally.
- Place your yoga strap under the ball of one foot and use it to pull your leg towards you while keeping both knees straight. If you don’t have a yoga strap, you may also reach for your big toe with your hand and use that to stretch your hamstrings but this way is going to be more challenging.
- While keeping your knees straight, slowly move your leg towards the side, opening the hip. Make sure the opposite hip doesn’t lift up. If it does, you can use a yoga block, place it a few inches to the side of your hip, and use that as a guide for when to stop lowering your leg.
- Repeat steps 1-3 multiple times on both knees.
2. Setu Bandhasana
Setu Bandhasana, or The Bridge Pose, is an asana that strengthens your hamstrings, inner thighs, and glutes which can then help support your knees and relieve pain.
You will need:
- 1 or 2 yoga blocks (optional)
How to do the Setu Bandhasana:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your lower back flat on the floor. Have your arms straight and right beside you for stability.
- Place a yoga block between your upper thighs and squeeze. This activates the muscles on your inner thighs. If you don’t have a block with you, a book or any similar-sized object will do as long as it’s thick enough to keep your knees and feet square with your hips.
- Inhale then raise your hips as high as you can without feeling any pain in your lower back. If it hurts, lower your hips to a painless height. Do all this while squeezing the yoga block.
- If the height of your bridge allows it, you may take another yoga block and position it vertically under your tailbone to help maintain constant stretch.
- Hold this position for 10 breaths and repeat several times.
The Bananasana, or Banana Pose, focuses more on opening the hips rather than the knee joint.
However, because it releases tension from the pelvis, stretches your hip flexors, your iliotibial band (ITB), and obliques – all while promoting deeper breathing – it can help you relax both your body and mind. This release may, in turn, help relieve knee pain.
How to do the Bananasana:
- Lie on your back with your legs straight. Your hands should be clasping the other arm’s elbow and positioned over your head and as close to the floor as comfortably possible. If this position feels too tight, you may use pillows to elevate your arms slightly off the floor.
- While keeping your butt in the same place, slowly scoot your feet and upper body to the right. This position should curve your body to one side (sort of like a banana or a crescent moon) stretching the entire left side of your body.
- You may cross your right ankle over your left to get a deeper stretch. When you get to a comfortable position, unclasp your elbows and stay in that position for several minutes.
- Repeat these steps on the other side for a balanced stretch.
4. Tadasana to Utkatasana
Tadasana (or Mountain Pose) and Utkatasana (or Chair Pose) are two of the more common yoga poses but that doesn’t take anything away from their benefits to knee pain.
Tadasana looks as if you’re just standing in place, so it’s fairly basic. However, anatomically speaking, it’s great for strengthening your legs while also developing better control of your muscles, leading to better alignment and posture.
Utkatasana, on the other hand, shares the same benefits. But it’s also more challenging especially for your quads, hamstrings, and core because your goal would be to keep your knees over your shins and your spine in a neutral position – while your knees are bent and your weight is shifted back on your heels.
You will need:
- Yoga block (optional)
How to do the Tadasana then transition to Utkatasana:
- With Tadasana, you want to stand tall with your knees and feet hip-width apart, lower back neutral but activated, belly softly tucked in, shoulders rolled back with your chest lifted slightly, chin softly tucked, and your palms open and facing front beside you.
- You may squeeze your yoga block in between your thighs to help you maintain the distance between your feet as well as keep your legs and core activated. If not, any similar-sized object will do. Hold this pose for about 5 breaths.
- To transition to Utkatasana, take a deep breath, and on your exhale, bend your knees while pushing your hips back as if you were going to sit on a chair and raising your arms up to the sky.
- Do step 3 while also maintaining the same head, shoulders, and spine position you did with Tadasana. Hold this for 5 breaths then stand back up to Tadasana on your final exhale.
- Repeat 3-5 times.
5. Virabhadrasana 1 and 2
Virabhadrasana, also called Warrior Poses, are different standing poses that open up your hips, stretch your core muscles, and strengthen your posterior and inner leg muscles.
All these benefits can be helpful for knee pain especially when it’s caused by imbalances and misaligned kneecaps.
How to do the Virabhadrasana:
- For Virabhadrasana 1, start by going into a lunge position. Your back foot should also be flat on the floor and angled to about 45° outwards.
- Bend your front knee to about 90° (less if you can’t), shin straight up and over your ankles, and your weight centered on your heel. Your back knee should still be extended, hips facing forward, and shoulders square with your hip. Raise your arms straight up to the sky and hold the position for 10 breaths.
- For Virabhadrasana 2, also start with a lunge position. But, this time, your back foot is angled 90° so it’s perpendicular to your front foot.
- Bend your front knee to about 90° (again, less if you can’t), shin straight up and over your ankles with your weight centered on your heel. Now, extend your arms straight to the side with your hips, torso, and shoulders facing the same direction as your back foot. Hold for 10 breaths.
- Mirror the same poses on the other side.
6. King Arthur’s Pose
The King Arthur Pose is great for stretching your quads and hip flexors which, in turn, may help relieve (if not prevent) knee pain. The stretch also makes it good for runners with patellofemoral pain syndrome (i.e. runner’s knee)
However, if the quadriceps are over-stretched then this can lead to more knee pain and further injury. So, take your time and gradually increase the flexibility of your quads and hip flexors over time.
You will need:
- A thick blanket or similar
- 2 yoga blocks (optional)
How to do the King Arthur’s Pose:
- Place a thick, folded blanket right next to the edge where the walls meet the floor. Also, if you have them, have your blocks in front of and to the side of the blanket.
- Start by half-kneeling with your left foot in front of you, left knee bent to 90°, right knee on the towel, your foot and shin pressed up against the wall behind you, and your torso bent forward on your left knee.
- Straighten your torso back up while keeping your hips square and facing front. Remember to only go as far as your quads and hip flexors can comfortably stretch to avoid injury. You may also use your hands to prop yourself up on your blocks.
- Hold the position for 5-10 breaths then mirror the steps on the other side.
7. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Ardha Matsyendrasana comes in several other names, including Half Lord of the Fishes Pose and Seated Twist Pose. No matter what you call it, though, this position stretches your lower back and opens up your hip.
As such, it can be great for reducing pressure off of the sciatic nerve and relieve symptoms such as pain behind the knee.
How to do Ardha Matsyendrasana:
- Start by sitting on your mat with both legs straight in front of you.
- Bend your right knee and cross it over your left knee, making sure that it’s bent enough to hinge on your thighs.
- Fold your left knee under your right knee.
- Cross your left arm over your right knee. Your hands can either be on the floor, on your left foot’s big toe, or at the side of your right butt cheek. Use this arm to pull your right knee close to your body which should then stretch your right glute while opening the left hip.
- Increase the stretch by facing and twisting more to the right but don’t overdo it.
- Hold this for 10 breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
Otherwise known as The Hero Pose, Virasana involves deep flexion of your knee, straightening your ankles, and relieving pressure on your hips. This, in turn, stretches several muscles which can then minimize knee pain and improve posture.
You will need:
- Yoga block (optional)
- Yoga blanket (optional)
How to do Virasana:
- Start by kneeling on your mat/folded blanket with both your knees hip-width apart and the dorsal part of your foot facing and touching the mat/floor.
- Scoot your feet away from each other to where they’re slightly wider than your knees.
- If you have a yoga block, place the block between your ankles. If not, any similar-sized object will do, like a pile of books for example.
- Slowly lower your hips until you’re sitting on the block while maintaining an upright but relaxed posture. This may feel uncomfortable at first, so adjust the height of the block as necessary.
- Stay in this position for at least a few breaths.
9. Ardha Chandrasana
Ardha Chandrasana, or the Supported Half-Moon Pose, is a pose that challenges your single-leg balance. Hence, it trains your hips, core, and ankles, as well as your glutes and other muscles.
This is particularly useful not just for relieving knee pain but also for preventing more injuries down the road.
A word of caution, though: One-legged stances put more pressure on your knee joint. So, while Ardha Chandrasana is helpful, you probably shouldn’t do this yet if it exacerbates your pain. Also, be careful with this pose if you have spinal problems or if you’re pregnant.
You will need:
- A yoga block (optional for experienced yogis but I think it’s crucial if you’re still starting out)
How to do Ardha Chandrasana:
- Spread your legs apart where your feet are about twice the width of your hip, maybe even a little wider if you can.
- Adjust your feet so your left foot is facing forward and your right foot is facing the right. The end result is a 90° angle between your left foot and right foot.
- If you have a yoga block, now would be a great time to position it about 6 inches in front of your right foot. If not, similar objects will do but make sure they’re stable (like a stool, for example).
- Bend your right knee and reach for the block with your right hand. Keep your left leg straight, your hips and left foot facing forward, and your neck and gaze turned toward the block. You may also place your left hand on your left hip for added stability.
- Straighten your right knee as you raise your left leg until it’s parallel with the floor. Again, keep your hips and left foot facing forward.
- If you feel comfortable enough with the position, you can raise your left arm straight up to the sky. At this point, your left hand should form a straight line with your shoulders, right hand, and the floor.
- Stay here for a few breaths and repeat on the other side.
What yoga poses are bad for knees?
Generally, yoga poses that are bad for your knees include those that put relatively excessive pressure on the joint.
For example, the Eagle Pose (Garudasana) and the Lord of the Dance Pose (Natarajasana) require you to put all your weight on one leg. While they’re great for posture and control, they probably aren’t the best if you have a nagging injury.
Can yoga help with knee pain?
Yes, yoga can help with knee pain.
Several studies have shown that regular yoga practice improves pain levels, functional mobility, general health, and even mental health.(2)
Why do my knees hurt when I do yoga?
Your knees hurt when you do yoga because your joint has been forced into a pose that compromises your anatomy or that you advanced too quickly.
For example, a Virasana without a tall block can compromise the soft tissues around your knees if your joints aren’t flexible enough to handle deep flexion. Padamasana, Matsyasana, and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana are other examples.
Remember: Yoga is supposed to help you fight off pain and injury but only if you practice mindfulness. So, go slow, listen to your body, and only progress when you feel comfortable enough to do so.
The best yoga poses for knee pain are those that comfortably stretch, strengthen, and help you gain more control of your joints and muscles without adding unnecessary or excessive pressure on the joint.
That being said, there’s quite a lot of them that fit the description. Even the most challenging poses can be good for your knee if you take your time, listen to your body, and possibly modify the poses to fit your current capabilities.
- Deepeshwar, Singh et al. “Effect of Yoga Based Lifestyle Intervention on Patients With Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Frontiers in psychiatry vol. 9 180. 8 May. 2018, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00180
- Wang, Yiguo et al. “Integrative effect of yoga practice in patients with knee arthritis: A PRISMA-compliant meta-analysis.” Medicine vol. 97,31 (2018): e11742. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000011742