Why Stretching your hips might cause knee pain
Pigeon Pose is one of the most widely beloved postures in the yoga practice across a multitude of styles. This is for good reason. However, the issue I see most often with this posture is that it comes with little guidance as to how to activate your muscles and align your bones and joints, and as a result many people experience pain in their knees or quite simply never find an increase in hip mobility. In this video I share my top three steps to a deep stretch in the hips without compromising the knee joint.
In my most recent online workshop, “Hips: Rock and Unlock Em” I go over some key actions in detail, and guide students into one of my favorite variations of pigeon posture – so if you like what you get in this video, definitely check out that full 2 hour workshop that goes over all you need to know about hip opening.
The key point that I go over in the video below and in the online workshop is that some of the hip muscles cross both the hip joint AND the knee joint, and so when we stretch the hips we are also stretching the knee. In addition, many hip stretches require putting pressure on the knee joint in order to rotate the thigh bone in the hip joint. One of the techniques I personally use is something called a facilitated stretch in order to target the belly (middle) of the muscles rather than the attachment points near each joint. Facilitated Stretch simply means an activation of the same muscles that are stretching. In the case of pigeon, I aim for the activation of the buttock muscles.
The Gluteus Maximus in particular is my focus because it feeds into the IT band, and the IT band connects to the knee joint. Any stretch of the buttocks could result in a straining of the knee. I find it incredibly helpful to activate the buttocks in order to ground and stabilize the knee joint. In addition, I also offer an activation from the other surrounding joint – the ankle. By activating certain muscles of the ankle I have found more access to spaciousness in the knee.
To be fair, nothing is fool proof. I have, however, tested these techniques among various body types over the past ten years and I have found it to be incredibly effective for most students. The result is deeper stretch in the hips and less or no strain or pain at all in the knee. That being said, this is your body and you have the greatest understanding of it when you tune in to how you feel and what you feel. The online Hips workshop is designed to help you with exactly that – Learn to feel your body on a more specific and nuanced level. Enjoy this free tutorial and as always let me know if you have questions about your body or your practice. If the video is helpful please share it!
Increases your range of motion while maintaining muscle integrity. Facilitated stretching is the activation or engagement of the muscles that are stretching. Activating the muscle while stretching causes the Golgi tendon organ to send a signal to the spinal column, and the spinal column speaks back, telling the muscles to relax.
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3 Steps for Pigeon Pose
Step 1 - Evert the ankle
Everting at the ankle joint aligns the shin at the knee joint, and activates the outer shin muscles (fibularis muscles). In addition, when in pigeon pose, it supports the external rotation at the femur bone (front leg) in the hip socket. When everting, you can try rolling the calf muscle forward toward the front of your mat to initiate external rotation at the knee. This can help to open the inner portion of the knee.
Step 2: Press outer Front knee Down
From your buttock muscles, press the outer front knee down and as a result, you should feel your hips lift up a little bit. If you don’t feel this you may have to think about pulling your front knee toward the back knee. Once you get your buttocks to activate, your femur (thigh bone) will begin to externally rotate. This action supports more congruency (more space) at the knee, and begins a facilitated stretch.
Step 3: Rotate The back Hip inward
Rotating the back thigh bone will help to rotate the pelvis toward the earth. Because the muscles of the front hip are connected to the pelvis, if you rotate the pelvis it lengthens the muscles causing a deeper stretch. I only recommend this if you are feeling at ease in the front knee. If so, go slow because it is very easy to lose what you have already created in step 1 and 2.
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