Where Is This Knee Pain In Backbends Coming From?

September 6, 2022

Transcript of: Where is this knee pain in backbends coming from?

Hey everybody! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. If you’ve got a question, go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion. I’ll get to it as soon as I can and answer it on video, just like I’m doing today. This question is from Jodie and it’s about knee pain in backbends.

The Question:

“I was wondering if you could help me figure out knee pain that I get when in backbends. When I do camel, and sometimes wheel, I can get knee pain in my outer knee. Any ideas about where this comes from would be helpful!”

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The Answer:

Alright Jodie, I’ll do my best. You know, as always, I don’t see you practicing. I can’t ask you questions, unfortunately. It always makes it a little more complicated. So, as you guys know if you watch these, I tend to stay on the vaguer side. You have to stay open to many possibilities.

Knee pain in backbends generally

Let me start with knee pain in backbends in general. This is something I’ve seen many times. Of course, we want our feet to be straight. That’s the ideal. But, your foot—in case anybody out there forgot—is connected through the ankle and your tibia (shin) to your knee. And that, as it turns out, is connected to the hip. So you always go back to the root, in essence. Or, you look at the whole chain. When you do that, you want to have the femurs and where the knees are pointing, lined up with the feet.

So many times I’ve seen the knees wide—this is a whole other conversation about backbending. I do a whole workshop on that. When the knees are wide and the feet are turned in, I often find people end up with outer knee pain. Or they have outer knee pain when they push up into backbend. And I look at them and they’re keeping their feet straight, but their knees are pointing out. That’s because their hips are tight, their glutes are turned on, their hip flexors are tight, or lots of other reasons for that. And that can cause outer knee pain in backbends.

I’m not sure that’s what’s going on for you specifically Jodie. I just thought I’d put that out there. Lining your feet up with your knees and your hips is generally a good idea. Just sayin’. Otherwise, you’re rotating from somewhere. Once the knee is bent, that rotation is happening from the knee and that can cause stress. That’s the point there.

Knee pain in camel

In your case, you start with camel, so I’m reading into this a little bit. You say, “camel and sometimes wheel I can get knee pain in the outer knee.” Keep in mind that there are quadriceps—everybody knows quadriceps. We tend to think of them as a single muscle. But, there are four muscles there, hence the name “quad”. Quad is four.

So, the outermost quadricep is probably where I would start, which is called vastus lateralis. Your knee pain in backbends could be from the way you’re going into it or the amount of effort and engagement you’re getting from your quadricep that’s causing something to happen there. It could be rotation there as well. That’s possible. The other thing to consider because—you say it’s on your outer knee, but I don’t know if it’s below the knee joint. These are the questions I would ask you if I were watching you and having you point to the spot. Is it at the knee joint? Is it below the knee joint? Is it above the knee joint? That kind of stuff also makes a difference.

TFL and the IT band

But here’s the other possibility, which is, tensor fascia latae (TFL) and the iliotibial band (IT band) could get involved in this. That could depend on whether you’re intending internal rotation of your hips, let’s say, while you do this, to hold things tight or for whatever intention or reason. That can turn on the tensor fascia latae and put tension into the IT band. And that mixed with the contraction of vastus lateralis, which it sits on top of, those two might be kind of stuck together a little bit. I mean I’m just guessing. But, something like that is not unreasonable to consider.

Figuring it out

So, what I would do to try to help you figure it out is, if you’re trying to do something with your legs, stop. Stop trying to do anything with your legs and let them just be themselves. Don’t try to fix anything or make anything happen in any particular way and see if the knee pain goes away. If so, that technique and intention that you have might not be the right one. Or, it does come back to the tissue. Something’s not happy, over-tight, or something like that. Okay?

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When you feel it in wheel, play with turning your feet out or letting your knees go wide and see if that changes your knee pain in backbends. Alright? This is what we have to do. We have to kind of open up when we have problems like this, areas of pain. We have to explore these things. Okay? And then that feeds information. It doesn’t mean that’s the solution. It just adds more information so we can figure out what’s going on.

Alright? Jodie, I hope that helped. I hope that gives you a couple of ideas. If nothing else, I give you permission to try something different and see if it fixes it. Alright? Anybody else, if you’ve got a question, you know what to do. Go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion.