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Practicing After Knee Surgery

By Tias Little

I'm 50 years old. I'm a runner and started doing Ashtanga Yoga about a year ago. I had surgery last week to repair a meniscal tear in my knee. Once you have had a meniscal tear repaired, are there any asanas that one should avoid?

—Dave S., Princeton, IL

Tias Little's reply:
Since you've had surgery, I suggest designing a practice that supports your recovery and following it for the next year or so. Meniscus tear surgeries are tricky. Sometimes they are effective and sometimes not. Ashtanga Yoga was developed for young boys and is most appropriate for twenty-somethings. Given your need to rehabilitate your knees, I do not recommend a lot of jumping in your practice. Instead, develop a practice of standing poses that will strengthen the structures around your knees.

It is very common for men of your vintage to experience problems with their knees—my father recently had his knee reconstructed due to arthritis. In my experience, many men lose stability in their right knee. The right side of the body is associated with being the male side, and men often carry their burdens—the mortgage, the business, the finances—over and above their knees. We are all familiar with the expressions "buckled at the knees" or "weak in the knees."

The knee is highly susceptible to distortion because of its weight-bearing capacity and its complicated design. In yoga practice the knee must be set just right. You can strain ligaments from doing yoga postures incorrectly—I have seen it happen again and again. As part of your recovery program, practice standing poses with careful attention to the alignment of your feet and knees.

Practice the standing poses in the Ashtanga Yoga sequence (with the exception of the half-lotus variation) to strengthen around the knees. Focus particularly on the lunge positions where the knee is bent and directly aligned over the ankle. These poses (Parsvakonasana and Virabhadrasana II) reinforce the tendon, ligament, and cartilage around the knee.

Avoid variations on Padmasana (Lotus Pose), Virasana (Hero's Pose). These poses place added pressure on the joint. I would also minimize the amount of running you do—it could be that your gait is not aligned when you run, and upon each step you are slightly distorting the structure of your knee. A swimming workout is much better for knees.

Tias Little brings a wonderful play of metaphor and imagination to his yoga teaching. He is trained in the Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa systems and his perspective clearly reflects the Buddha's teachings. He is a licensed massage therapist and has studied extensively in cranial-sacral therapy and Rolfing. Tias earned a Master's in Eastern Philosophy from St. John's College. He currently co-directs Yogasource in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife Surya and leads yoga intensives throughout the country. Tias' teaching schedule is available on his web site at www.yogasource-santafe.com.


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Reader Comments

Dakini

Prem (Anthony Carlisisi) Ashtanga expert in Bali, returned to a full practise after tearing his ACL - no operation. He stresses good alignment and only working with what feels good, always protecting the knee. He also recommends an algae supplement called Simplexity which has been brilliant for my knee. I loved working with Prem and my knee got so strong after just 3 weeks. I believe yoga is safe so long as you take responsibility and truly listen to what your body will allow you to do. I don't believe doctors, unless they practise yoga or take more interest and collaborate with good teachers, truly know what is happening so err on the side of caution. Only you know what you can and cannot do. Find a good teacher and keep listening, to build a safe practise that may integrate the strength needed to help the knees. Bear in mind the knees do not function in isolation so aligning the rest of the body will help too which is part of the magic of yoga. I would also recommend quantum touch therapy for the knee and lots of healing perhaps with acupuncture too as the meniscus has a poor blood supply so it's ability to regenerate is low. Yoga will help too as it increases circulation systemically. Happy om time. Namaste.

Starr

I have a medial meniscus tear in the right knee, and have seen two doctors. I came from an older,experienced doctor today who viewed my MRI and x-rays. He says for me to stay away from Yoga - It is October now, he says it will either get better, or it won't by December, but not to put any strain or twisting on the knee, and he said twice to stay away from yoga.

Christopher

Anyone out there who has returned to practice after having a meniscus operation??? If so, please do share your story with me. I had my operation about a month ago and I am itching to get back. Unfortunately, I am concerned about what is good and what is bad for me. drop me a line. chemmans@yahoo.com

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