KneeHab: 7 yoga poses for ACL rehab and recovery
KneeHab 101 series
Knee injuries are a part of sporting life in the mountains. Over the next few weekends, the Summit Daily sports section will print weekly articles about ACL/MCL injury, surgery, rehab, recovery and prevention, featuring interviews with local doctors, physical therapists and pro athletes. They’re the only knees you’ve got — show them some love.
Have a suggestion for the series? Email sports editor Phil Lindeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Week 1 — “A club I never wanted to join,” injury column
Week 2 — Anatomy of an ACL/MCL injury
Week 3 — Yoga for ACL/MCL recovery
Week 4 — ACL surgery 101
Week 4 — “Slice, dice, make it nice,” pre-surgery thoughts and fears column
Week 5 — Myth-busting for knee injuries
Week 6 — Post-surgery recovery, rehab and physical therapy
Week 7 — Man on the street: Summit locals talk knee injuries, video
Week 8 — “Long, hard road,” recovery column
Want more? U.S. Paralympic Ski Team physical therapist Paula Ashbaugh also has 7 yoga poses made for back pain relief.
Knee injuries are a very common occurrence in winter sports and many of us here in Summit County have experienced ACL, MCL or other knee damage first-hand. MCL (medial collateral ligament) strains and tears are most often seen in ski injuries, followed closely by the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). Knee problems are becoming more common in snowboarders as well because boots have become stiffer over the years. Professional skiers have proven that even with the best of conditioning, trauma can occur to the knees in these sports, resulting in long recovery and the end of a winter season.
Once a knee injury has occurred, whether it requires surgical intervention or not, rehabilitation is usually a prerequisite before returning full force to high-level activities. While physical therapists follow protocols preferred by surgeons after an operation, neuromuscular balance, strength and flexibility are all important aspects of recovery — and yoga helps with each one.
Yoga improves your ability to stay mindful. After you recover, this can even enhance your riding experience by helping you focus on a line, whether in the trees or on the groomers. By staying present in the moment we’re aware of all that is happening, and we know this as “true bliss.”
The road to knee recovery is long and yoga can help from start to finish. Here are seven yoga poses (asanas) for knee recovery. Remember to always discuss a fitness or wellness program with your physical therapist to determine if you are ready after a knee injury.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
This simple posture is a grounding pose for strength, power and focus.
Stand with your feet touching.
Keep your arms straight, with the palms forward and the shoulders away from the ears. The spine is long.
Reach towards the ground.
Engage your quadriceps slightly and hold the pose for 60 seconds.
Repeat 1-2 times.
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
This posture flows from mountain pose and strengthens quads, which are important for knee stability.
From Tadasana, bend your knees deeply and drop your tailbone toward the floor. Do not arch your lower back too much.
Bring your tummy toward the spine and reach your arms overhead, palms facing each other as you pull your shoulders away from your ears.
Look toward the ceiling and breathe deeply while holding for 30-60 seconds.
Repeat 2 times.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Another standing posture, this pose is excellent for balance and focus.
Begin in Tadasana and shift your weight slightly onto the left foot, keeping the arch of your foot firmly planted to the floor.
Draw your right foot up your left leg and place the sole against the inner left thigh
(or calf), with toes pointing toward the floor. The center of your pelvis should be directly over the left foot with a strong leg (don’t hyperextend your standing knee).
Press your palms together and place thumbs against the sternum (Anjali Mudra).
Gaze at a fixed point in front of you on the floor about 4 or 5 feet away.
Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Step back to Tadasana with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time with the opposite leg.
Bird Dogs (Chakravakasana)
This grounded posture strengthens the core, arms and gluteal muscles — all key muscle groups in skiers in recovery.
Begin on your hands and knees with a strong core.
Extend your right arm forward with the thumb pointing up and your left leg back, leading with the heel and a flexed foot.
Reach long through the central axis of your spine, extending your fingertips and toes.
Hold for 3-5 breaths.
Return to hands and knees and repeat with opposite limbs.
Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
This seated position is important for hip flexibility.
From a seated position, bend your knees and pull your heels toward your pelvis.
Drop your knees out to the sides and press the soles of your feet together.
Clasp your feet together with both hands. Never force your knees down — only bring your feet in toward the groin as tolerated.
Fold over your feet, rolling forward on pelvis.
Hold for 10 or more deep breaths.
Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
After a long day on the slopes, this pose stretches and strengthens the back, calf, shoulder and hamstring muscles that get so much work when skiing.
Start on your hands and knees, with your wrists under your shoulders and toes tucked under on the floor. Keep knees and feet hip width apart.
Slowly lift your hips and pelvis, trying to “sit” on the ceiling.
Straighten your legs and bring heels to the floor as able. You should have equal weight on the wrists and the feet.
Hold for 5 breaths.
Repeat 3 times.
Upward Plank Pose (Purvottansana)
This posture helps combat muscular imbalance by realigning the spine and strengthening the arms, wrists and legs.
Begin sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
Walk your hands 6-8 inches behind your hips and place your palms on the floor, with your fingers and thumbs pointed toward your hips.
Plant your feet and lift your hips towards the ceiling, so that your shoulder blades meet and your butt is off the floor.
Keep your chest pointed to the ceiling and, gazing up, walk your feet away from your body while keeping your hips elevated.
If you can, straighten your legs, press your big toes to the floor and take 5 full breaths.
Lower back to the floor and repeat 1-2 times.
Paula Ashbaugh has a doctorate in physical therapy and is a certified athletic trainer with Avalanche Physical Therapy in Frisco. She also works with the U.S. Paralympic Snowboard Team. She completed her 500-RYT in yoga and teaches at Peak Yoga Studio in Dillon.
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