All of your joints, including your knees, have built-in padding, so that when the bones slide against each other, such as when you walk or run, the movement is smooth and pain-free. If this cushioning, known as articular cartilage, wears down, you lose that cushy feeling. The deterioration is known as chondromalacia. Yoga can't rebuild the cartilage, but it can help develop the muscles around the knee to provide support and alleviate pain.
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Do I Have Chondromalacia?
Chondromalacia can happen at any joint, but most commonly happens at the knee. Sometimes referred to as "runner's knee," but isn't exclusive to that subset of athletes. Skiers, cyclists, soccer players and even non-athletic folks who spend a lot of time on their knees, such as tile layers, may feel the pain.
Tell-tale signs of chondromalacia of the patella includes pain behind the knee cap that becomes aggravated when you ascend or descend stairs. Your knee may get stiff after a long time sitting, too.
Cartilage can't be rebuilt, so chondromalacia is a permanent condition. Ice and over-the-counter pain meds can ease pain. Physical therapy that helps retrain your knee to track properly helps if your chondromalacia is due to poor running form.
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What About Yoga?
Yoga is a powerful tool in building body awareness, which could be helpful in treating chondromalacia of the knee. While you can't undo damage already done to the cartilage, you can retrain your movement patterns to curb progression of the condition.
Yoga Addresses Muscular Imbalances
Sometimes, chondromalacia occurs because your knee cap isn't properly aligned. Chondromalacia can also result when you've got muscles that aren't doing their job when you run or walk, and your knees suffer as a result. Say your hips are weak, for example, leading to an unstable pelvis. This trickles down the kinetic chain with every step you take and can eventually negatively affect your knees.
Poses such as Warrior I, Triangle, Side Angle and Warrior III strengthen the hips. An Iyengar-style class, which pays particular attention to good body alignment and moves slowly and precisely might be most beneficial in building hip strength properly. You'll learn how to use blocks and other props to support you and prevent hyperextension of your affected knee, which can be as aggravating as a deep knee bend.
Yoga Strengthens Muscles that Support the Knee
The thighs, calves, hips and core all support your knees function. When any of these muscles are weak, your knee bears the brunt of your activity and becomes overused more quickly. Standing poses, including the Warriors. lunges and balancing poses, help you develop more leg strength. Core strength is developed through specific poses such as Boat, Reverse Plank, Plank and Dolphin.
A Final Word About Yoga
Even if yoga doesn't resolve chondromalacia, it may be a good alternative to the high-impact activities you did to create the problem. If you're left just not being able to run, jog or jump much anymore, turn your sights to new challenges such as Headstand, Tree and Upward Dog.
Certain poses will possibly irritate your knee, however. Deep squats like Malasana or Shiva squat, and kneeling poses like Hero and even Child will likely be off limits. For some people with chondromalacia of the patella, even lunges such as Warriors and Crescent may be uncomfortable. Feel out the poses in your practice and skip or modify those that cause pain. For example, be very conservative as you bend your knee in Warriors. Always alert your teacher to your condition before class so they can offer ideas for modifications, too.
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