6 Best Yoga Pose Modifications to Ease Knee Pain

Do you feel a little held back from your yoga practice because of arthritis or pain in your knees? Today I’m going to walk you through some simple yoga pose modifications to ease your knee pain. Try these simple tips to protect your knees and help you feel more comfortable while doing yoga!

Mikah Horn
6 Best Yoga Pose Modifications to Ease Knee Pain

If you've ever had to deal with pesky knee pain during your yoga practice, you're in the right place. Today, we're diving into some super practical tips and specific yoga pose modifications for knee pain. Whether it's arthritis, an old injury, or just those cranky knees acting up, we've got your back (or should we say, knees?).

This blog post is all about making your yoga practice as knee-friendly as possible, so you can flow seamlessly and comfortably. So, roll out your mat, and let's explore how a few simple tweaks and adjustments can make all the difference.

How can yoga help relieve knee pain?

Sometimes when we're in pain, the last thing we want to do is move. However, it's really true that "motion is lotion!"

This is where yoga can really help. Yoga is a low-impact, safe way to bring movement into your life without hurting or causing joint inflammation. It helps develop body awareness and promotes mindful movement. Scientific studies show that mindfulness can help prevent injury.

Yoga can also strengthen the muscles that support your knee joints and stretch tight areas that also might be contributing to your pain.

However, there are some specific ways you can adjust and modify your yoga practice to keep your knees safe and not cause any further pain or inflammation. Let's dive into those tips now! 

1. Put padding under your knees while kneeling.

We spend a lot of time on our hands and knees (in "tabletop position") in yoga. It may seem like common sense, but put cushioning or padding under your knees while you're kneeling. You can use a folded up blanket or a foam knee pad, like this one from Amazon:

Another way to use a blanket for support is to fold up the blanket and place it under your shins (instead of putting the blanket under your knee joints directly). This allows your knees to hang off the edge of the blanket, so there's absolutely no pressure at all on the joints.

2. Decrease the amount of knee flexion.

A lot of people with knee issues find it uncomfortable or even impossible to bring their hips to their heels in poses like thunderbolt pose or child’s pose. This movement of lessening the angle between your thighs and your calves is called "knee flexion."

You can use props to bring your hips up higher (away from your calves) and decrease the degree of knee flexion required. Blankets, a yoga bolster, or a firm pillow works well here.

Try stacking up several bolsters or blankets until you find a position that's comfortable for your body. This lessens the amount of bend required of the knee, placing less strain on the joint.

And like we mentioned above, additionally, you can place padding under the shins to take direct pressure off the knees.

3. Use a chair for no pressure at all on your knee joints!

Sometimes no matter what we do or what adjustments we make to our yoga practice, we are unable to bear weight through the knees due to pain. This doesn’t need to affect your yoga practice!

In this case….try using a chair!

Turn the chair so the short side is facing you. Place your hands on the short side of the chair, either holding on to the sides of the chair or planting your palms down with your fingers spread wide.

Just about any yoga pose you would do in tabletop position (on your hands and knees) will also work with a chair.

Important side note: Please don’t think using a chair or any other prop makes your practice “less than." Props are our friend! It doesn’t make you a better yogi to not use props and push past discomfort and pain. In fact, you’ll get more out of each pose if you support your body in an intentional way.

4. Find the degree of bend in your knee that feels best for you.

In standing poses, especially in yoga's lunges like Crescent Lunge, Warrior 1, and Warrior 2, consider the degree of bend in your knee. Find what feels best in your body.

If you feel an ache or pain in your knees where one or both knees are bent, try bending a little less. Only bend the knee to the point where you experience no pain in the joint.

A lot of times I see my students bending their front knee deeply (usually where it goes past the ankle) and shifting a majority of their body weight on the front leg in lunges. This is just going to put more pressure on the joint. Instead, lessen the bend of your front knee, press through your front heel, and root through your back foot actively to shift some of the weight to the back leg.

Similar guidelines apply in Chair Pose (Utkatasana). Hinge from the hips, bend your knees a little less, and send your weight back to your heels.

That said, as much as you try to keep your weight back in the heels in Chair Pose, there is still going to be a lot of pressure on the knees in this angle. So if you find that Chair Pose just isn't working for your body, try "Wall Chair" instead:

  • Stand with your back against a wall with your feet hip-distance apart, hands resting on your thighs.
  • Walk your feet away from the wall.
  • Begin bending your knees and let your body slide down lower on the wall.
  • Find the depth of bend in your knees that feels best in your body.
  • Hold for 6-8 deep breaths before slowly coming out of the pose.

Wall Chair has all the same benefits as Chair Pose, but with your knees in a position that is easier on the joints.

Try this video where I show you how to do Wall Chair (and a few other standing poses): 

5. Check that your knee is tracking over your toes.

In standing poses where the knee is bent, check to see that your knee is tracking over your toes instead of buckling in or out.

If the knee is collapsing inward towards the big toe side of the foot, it can cause abnormal loading of the knee. If you find that your knee tends to caves in, it might mean that your glute and hip muscles (your abductors) are weak or aren't fully engaging. This can directly affect your knee health.

Imagine there is a flash light on your knee cap. Shine the light straight ahead!

6. Avoid hyperextending your knees.

In poses like Triangle Pose, sometimes I see my students locking out the front knee and hanging out in the joint instead of activating their leg muscles for support. This also happens in standing balance poses like Tree Pose.

Instead of hyperextending our knee, we want to activate the quadricep muscles because they support the knee joint. 

Try bending your knees just slightly (sometimes called a micro-bend) to recruit more muscular engagement and see how it feels. It might make the pose more challenging, but that’s a good thing!

Your next step  

Overall, the more you can build strength in the hips, core, and leg muscles, increase joint and muscle flexibility, and focus on proper joint mechanics, the better your knees will feel. Keep moving! Remember, motion is lotion.

This is exactly what we focus on in my online on-demand yoga membership: Lifelong Yoga Online. We have unlimited therapeutic yoga classes that are designed to help you move better, breathe better, and feel better in your body.

Join us to get started today!