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The Knee

Anatomy of a Knee

These are two of the most important joints for the yogi to understand, for they are central to a safe, comfortable and ever-deeper practice of the asanas.

The knee joint is the largest, most complicated joint in the body. It's also integral to and often vulnerable in many asanas. Therefore yogis need to understand the knee's structure in order to avoid knee injuries. Particularly risky are poses in which the knee is flexed yet carries weight, and sitting poses such as siddhasana.

Three bones meet at the knee:

the femur (thigh), tibia (shin) and fibula. Cartilage is attached to the end of each of these bones. In addition, between the femur and tibia are the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus, which are two semicircular pieces of cartilage (semilunar cartilage) that serve as shock absorbers. In the middle of the joint are the two cruciate ("crossed") ligaments, which prevent forward and backward slippage. Around the whole joint is a tough fibrous covering called the capsule.

The knee is a hinge joint; it is designed not to bend sideways or backward (hyperextension), except to very small degrees. This is why, although it's often recommended that one contract the quadriceps in forward-bending asanas (to stabilize the knee as well as to release the hamstrings via reciprocal inhibition), that may not be advisable for persons who have a tendency to hyperextend the knee. Be sure that all rotation (when bending the knee) takes place in the hip joint, because it is possible to rotate the knee slightly in effect, bending it sideways which can damage ligaments and/or cartilage. Most easily damaged is the meniscus, because it is fairly easy to catch this cartilage between the two bones and tear it. Torn cartilage can result in great pain, and it will need to be surgically removed. Helping guard against sideways bending are the collateral (side) ligaments medial and lateral which are on either side of the joint capsule. These ligaments are aided in this task by the ends of the hamstring muscles, which wind around the sides of the knee. This is not a "fail-safe" mechanism, however, because the collateral ligaments and cruciate ligaments can also be torn by twisting the knee. In the realm of athletics/ the terms "torn meniscus" and "torn anterior cruciate ligament" are all too familiar and dreaded.

Knee Cautions

To summarize the knee cautions for asana practice (and any other movement or position):

• Don't hyperextend, 'Lock" the .knee.

• Don't twist, rotate, torque the knee. When a leg is supporting weight, keep the knee pointing in same line as toes. When entering a cross-legged position, let all rotation come from the hip joint.

• Don't extend knee beyond ankle when leg is bent and bearing weight (e.g., virabhadrasana, lunges).

• Don't move the knee medially or laterally when the foot is in a fixed position.

• Be careful (especially with weak or injured knees) when knees are in extreme flexion with leverage being applied (e.g., balasana, supta vajrasana).

 

 

 

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