Your meniscus might have a funny name, but it plays an important role. These wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage sit between your thigh bone and shin bone to cushion the space where they meet at your knee. They're essential to keeping the joint stable and pain-free, but the design isn't the best for all the activity people do.
A lot of people tear the cartilage, or meniscus, suddenly in athletics when they squat, twist or get tackled. As you age, your cartilage degenerates, making it more vulnerable to tears during simple activities such as getting up out of a chair or twisting funnily in your Warrior I in yoga.
A meniscus tear ranges in seriousness and doesn't necessarily mean your yoga practice is off the table. Certain precautions can keep it safe from tearing and protected if it is torn.
Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear
You could have a tear in your meniscus if you experience pain, stiffness, swelling, weakness in the joint or catching of the knee. Pain felt when moving the knee through its full range of motion is another indication. If you suspect your meniscus is torn, it's best to see a doctor. Knee pain isn't something to ignore.
You may hear a telltale popping sound when the meniscus tears, but it often takes a few days for the full swelling and severe pain to manifest. In yoga, this pop can happen in just about any standing pose, either from misalignment, carelessness or weakness.
Read More: Yoga Postures to Help Bad Knees
How It Might Happen in Yoga
If you've got degeneration and muscle imbalances, even a pose you're familiar with can cause a meniscus tear. Flowing from standing pose to standing pose, rather swiftly with the breath, can be a danger — especially if you check out and move on auto-pilot, rather than mindfully.
Lotus pose, which puts your knee in an extreme external rotation, is a common cause of a meniscus tear. If your body sends you pain signals while trying to get into the pose, don't push — pain is a signal from the body to stop.
Other poses that can be dicey for the knee include Pigeon and Hero.
Protect Your Knees
While you can't guarantee you won't tear your meniscus while playing sports or in daily activity if you have degeneration, you can protect yourself in yoga practice. Of course, even being mindful isn't a perfect protection strategy, but it sure lowers your chances of injury.
If your knees are healthy, keep them that way by listening to your body's warning signals. If you feel strain in the joints or deep in the bones in a pose, you know it's time to back off. Yoga poses are designed to stretch the muscles methodically, not tear connective tissue or shift your bone's structures.
If you enjoy a vinyasa-style practice that flows with the breath, stay present. If you notice your mind wandering to your grocery list or that thing your significant other said before you left for class, pause and regroup. It's OK to even come down into Child's pose for a few breaths to bring your mind back to the task at hand.
Pay attention to how you align your knees with your feet when in standing poses, especially ones that involve deep knee bends. For example, in Warrior II, ensure that your bent knee doesn't extend past your ankle and that its point is in line with your first two toes.
Properly warm up before your yoga practice with Sun Salutations. Moving cold into deep knee bends invites trouble. Warm your hips up, too, with slow movement into kneeling lunges, for example. Tight hips can put stress on the knees.
Poses to Practice with a Tear
If it's too late and your knee's already injured, you can still practice. How you'll practice depends on the seriousness of your tear and whether surgery is required for healing. Even if standing is uncomfortable and moving up and down from the floor impossible, modify poses in a chair to sit in meditation, gentle twists and a forward fold over your bent legs.
If you feel any pain in your knee, stop a pose immediately. If you can practice standing poses, you might try Warrior I — with only a mild bend in the front knee — and Triangle, being careful not to lock out the knee joints. Balancing poses, again with soft knee joints rather than locked ones, help build leg strength to support the area around the knees.
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