Fitness Magazine

Protecting Your Joints

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by BaxterProtecting Your JointsToday I’d like to review the idea of protecting your joints via your yoga practice. I will share with you why this is a good—maybe essential—idea, and then provide info about how and when to do it. 
Why Protect Your Joints
Our joints are the pivot points by which our myofascial system moves our bodies around. So healthy joints means healthy movement. I define a healthy joint as allowing for the full range of movement—whether it is weight bearing or not—that is smooth and pain-free. Learning to protect your joints while they are still healthy has a preventative benefit over time. After all, we have all heard by now that the protective surfaces of joints, coated with cartilage, are subject to wear and tear over time, especially if we do a lot of repetitive movements at certain joints (you runners out there perking up?). And of course, many joints (think ankles, knees, shoulders, and wrists) are subject to acute injuries that our yoga practice might also help prevent with good technique. Finally, if we have already developed joint issues, such as osteoarthritis or a joint injury, protecting the joints could allow for healing, reduced pain, and improved movement. How to Protect Your JointsSupporting Your Joints. One technique you can employ in your yoga asana is to protect your joints by consciously firming the muscles that support the joint. This is beneficial for problem joints as well as for protecting healthy joints. Nina described technique in her post Why and How to Activate Your Muscles in Yoga Poses. She said that, for example, if you have knee arthritis, firming the muscles on all sides of your thighs in Extended Side Angle pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) will help support your knees. And for people who are overly flexible and can bend easily into deep forward bends and backbends, consciously activating the muscles that are supporting you in the pose will prevent you from hanging from your joints, which can cause injury. For example, instead of passively dropping into a pose where you bend backward or forward from the hips, such as Camel pose (Ustrasana) and Standing Forward Bend, (Uttanasana), you can protect your hip joints by activating your upper thigh and lower buttock muscles. (For flexible folks this will actually mean focusing more on firming the muscles and not going as deep into a stretch as they can actually go.)For joint safety, you want to emphasize strength and stability rather than promoting more flexibility. So practice as you would for increasing bone or muscle strength by firming the muscles that support your joints. For example, to protect your front knee in Warrior 2 pose, you might shorten the distance between your feet so you are not bending your front knee through such a deep range of motion, and then, when your knee is positioned over your ankle joint, focus on firming the muscles on all sides of the knee joint toward the bone. If you have healthy joints now, you can use this technique to support any joint that is weight bearing, such as the joints of the legs in standing poses or the joints of the arms in poses where you are supported by your arms, such as, Cat/Cow, Downward-Facing Dog pose, and Upward Facing Dog pose. Although this technique will be easier to turn on in poses that you hold for longer periods of time, with practice, you may be able to bring a bit of this feeling into even some dynamic work.Making Space. In addition to this firming technique that Nina described, I also recommend the technique of “making space” in the joints for people who are having problems. For ankles, knees, hips, wrists and elbows, to make space in the joint, lift the bone immediately above the joint, relative to gravity. For example, if someone with knee pain from arthritis is working in standing poses, you would lift your thighbones (femurs) away from the lower leg bones as you are entering, holding, and exiting a pose. In inverted poses, this same person could move their shinbones up away from their thighbones (even though in non-weight bearing positions the knee might be symptom free).This internal action of lifting one bone away from another creates a bit more space between the boney surfaces of the joint and can provide improved pain-free range of motion. I find it personally helpful with my left hip that may have some early arthritis changes and many of my students have adopted it for their affected joints.The only potential downside to this technique is that the joints above and below the joint where you are creating more space will cinch down a bit, so you lose some space in those healthier, non-arthritic joints. So don’t use it for problem joints if it doesn’t provide you with relief. And don’t use it regularly for your healthy joints. Although this technique will be easier to turn on in poses that you hold for longer periods of time, with practice, you may be able to bring a bit of this feeling into even some dynamic work.
If you have joint problems now, see if this technique is helpful for you. You can use this technique alone or in combination with the muscular contraction technique if it works for you. Although we don’t recommend using the making space technique regularly for healthy joints, you could also experiment a bit it, just to have it in your bag of tricks should you need it down the road. 
Propping in Restorative Poses. One of the best features of restorative poses is that once you are set up, you get to relax your body and let the pose, props, and gravity do the work of stretching your body. This does not mean, however, that your joints are necessarily safe in all restorative poses. Although you do not want to use our two joint protection techniques in restorative poses—as it goes against their underlying principle of relaxing your muscles—you should still make sure that you are not noticing any compression sensation, pinching sensation, or pain at your joints. A classic example where this can happen is pain or pinching in the knees in Supported Childs pose. In such a case, add just enough additional lift for your body so that the pinching or pain goes away, even if that means feeling less of a stretch.And just as over-stretching can cause joint problems an active pose, it can do so also in restorative poses, leading to potential strain on the joints. Therefore, if you notice pain in your joints after practicing restorative poses with less support, we recommend that you add in more support, aiming for a lighter feeling of stretch. Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

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