For people with knee problems, when less invasive treatments fail, some will opt for a knee joint replacement. Those who undergo knee replacement may want to incorporate yoga into part of their post-surgery healing regimen. But unless it’s done carefully and with appropriate modifications, yoga could make knees feel worse.
To do a total knee replacement, the surgeon resurfaces the knee joint and removes surrounding bone and cartilage. Approximately 300,000 Americans have this procedure done annually, according to the National Institutes of Health, and that number is rising. Women and obese people of both sexes are especially likely to suffer knee problems. After surgery, the replacement knee will behave differently, with somewhere between 120 and 155 degrees of flexion, according to yoga teacher Dean Lerner. This means the knee will not bend nearly as much as it would back when it was healthier and more flexible.
If you’ve had a knee replacement, inform your yoga teacher before class begins. You’ll need to be especially careful about alignment, and your teacher will want to keep a close eye on you. Protect your knees by keeping them aligned with your ankles and hips. If your knees still hurt, ask your teacher for modifications. Standing poses done with careful alignment will strengthen the hamstrings and quadriceps, which often become weaker after surgery.
Poses which were once easy may feel less blissful now. Instead of doing pigeon, a popular hip stretch which puts pressure on the knee, flip over and cross your left ankle over your right thigh, then pull the right thigh toward your chest until you feel the left hip stretch. In this position, you’ll have more control over how much pressure you put on the replaced knee. In the standing balance pose eagle, your legs might not wrap around each other as gracefully as they once did. Don’t worry about it.
Props like straps, blocks and blankets are of great assistance to yogis, especially after a traumatic physical event such as a knee replacement. In poses requiring a lot of flexion, make sure you have enough support. Sitting on a block is helpful in poses like deep squats or hero pose, in which you try to sit between your feet with your shins pointing back on either side of your hips. Ask your teacher to help you find ways to use props to decrease pressure and strain on your knees.