I believed being a runner before I began practicing Yoga would give me a distinct advantage in terms of health, fitness and flexibility. In some respects perhaps it did help with my endurance, the ability to hold the asana for that much longer. However, I also experienced a huge disadvantage in that my knees and ankles were extremely tight, limiting my ability to get into asanas that required flexibility in these regions. Runners generally experience lower back and knee pain and usually have tight knees, ankles, hips and hamstrings and stretching is imperative as flexible muscles are extremely important in the prevention of most leg injuries.
After some research I found the following which is relevant to me and my tight knees. I discovered that though the pain may be felt mainly in the knee, the problem is actually caused by the muscles that support the knee. Namely the tensor fasciae latae and the large muscle at the rear of your upper leg, gluteus maximus.
The iliotibial band is actually a thick tendon-like portion of another muscle called the tensor fasciae latae. This band passes down the outside of the thigh and inserts just below the knee.
The diagram below shows the anterior (front) view of the right thigh muscles. If you look towards the top left of the diagram, you’ll see the tensor fasciae latae muscle. Follow the tendon of this muscle down and you’ll see that it runs all the way to the knee. This thick band of tendon is the iliotibial band. Or iliotibial tract, as it is labelled in the diagram.
The main problem occurs when the tensor fasciae latae muscle and iliotibial band become tight. This causes the tendon to pull the knee joint out of alignment and rub against the outside of the knee, which results in inflammation and pain.
Biomechanical causes include:
Leg length differences;
Tight, stiff muscles in the leg;
Foot structure problems such as flat feet; and
Running style problems such as pronation.
Prior to beginning Yoga, I would rarely stretch before or after a run, which resulted in tight leg muscles and I also suffer from flat feet which worsened my condition. Other muscles in the lower back, hip, backside and upper leg also affect the function of the knee, so it’s important to pay attention to all these muscles.
In addition, Yoga involves a much more focused awareness of breath and how it affects the body. Some articles have shown that yoga’s emphasis on breathing through the nose helps a runner become more aware of their breath, “accessing the richest supply of blood to transport to the lungs.” Such breathing increases lung capacity, which enhances both energy and stamina for runners, focused breathing can ease the muscle tension that runners carry, and it can also relax the entire body. Yoga complements running perfectly in that you should challenge the body in new ways and it can improve balance and breathing, it can balance out overworked muscles and increase the fluidity of the entire body so that a single, overused muscle does not throw everything off balance.
Asanas/exercises to reduce knee tightness:
Salamba Kapotasana (Pigeon pose) – ensure you are supported by using your fingers to support your upper body weight
Padmasana – modify by gently bouncing the bound knee to warm up/stretch before attempting to go into the asana
Baddha Konasana (Cobblers pose or butterfly)
Sitting with both legs wrapped behind you (calves to be parallel with thigh muscle)