A few simple ideas to help protect your elbows and knees so you can enjoy many years of pain-free practice!
What is a hyperextending joint? A joint that has the ability to extend easily and painlessly past its normal range of movement. See images below for examples.
Why we don’t want to hyperextend our joints. Over time weight bearing on hyperextended joints damages the cartilage in the joint as well as over-stretches the ligaments that hold the joint together, creating less stability and reducing the health of the joint over time.
How we stabilise hyperextending joints. Because a hyperextending joint doesn’t have the normal stability that is created by the ligaments we need to create stability by engaging the muscles that run across that joint.
What this looks like.
When weight bearing in the hyperextended position the weight is rolling to the pinkie finger side of the hand/wrist, the eye of the elbow flares forward to the front of the mat and the arm bones curve towards each other.
The main muscles we need to engage in order to stabilise the elbow.
The main muscles we need to stabilise the elbow joint run across the elbow joint on the front and back of the arm- the biceps and the triceps.
How to engage these muscles in Downward facing dog.
- Ground down through the index finger knuckle- this will help balance too much external rotation in the arm.
- Gently try to drag the hands across the mat towards each other without actually moving them. This will engage muscles that bend the elbow to counterbalance the hyperextension.
- Keep the above points and then start to roll the upper arms away from one another as shown in image above. This will start to engage the muscles on the opposite side of the arm, the triceps.
- The joint is supported in this new position by the muscles that pass over the joint on the front and back of the arm.
- In weight bearing arm poses like downward facing dog or plank pose the eye of the elbow should sit at roughly 45 degrees towards the front of the mat.
What this looks like- more obviously on the back leg.
The knee is a hinge joint, it moves in only one direction- bent or straight. When the leg moves past straight and curves backwards it is in hyperextension. Again, over time, weight bearing in this position can damage the cartilage in the knee and over stretch the ligaments that support the stability of the knee joint.
One way to see if your knees have the ability to hyperextend is to sit on the floor with the legs straight out in front of you. Straighten the legs as much as possible and see if the heels lift off the floor. See images
The main muscles we need to engage to support a hyperextending knee.
The muscles on the front and back of the leg that run across the knee joint. The hamstrings and calf muscles on the back of the leg and the quads on the front of the leg.
How to engage these muscles in straight leg standing postures.
- Actively ground the mound of the big toe down into the floor.
- Imagine you want to dig the heel back into the floor – this engages the hamstring muscles.
- Both of these actions engage the muscles on the back of the leg to bring the bones out of hyperextension & into a more neutral position.
- Grip the muscles around & above the knee, the quads. Imagine hugging these muscles onto the bone. This will support the knee joint from the front.
- The knee is now supported by the muscles that run across the knee on the front and the back of the leg.
A few other things to keep in mind when working with hyperextending joints.
- If you have a hyperextending joint and bring the joint back to a neutral position it may feel like it is bent.
- When we no longer hyperextend a joint it may feel as though we have lost stability.
- The muscles that run across the joint are able to supply stability to the joint but if these muscles aren’t used to doing this they may have to build up the strength & awareness to do so. This takes time but eventually it becomes muscle memory & simply a new way of doing things. Be kind, take it slow, but also know that this is worth the effort. Your joints will thank you for it in years to come!
Thank you to my two gorgeous students who very kindly let me photograph their limbs! It’s been so exciting watching the progress you have both made. Great job 🙌🙏There are some fantastic Yoga Anatomy websites out there that go into much more detail but I hope this gives you some ideas to work with. As always if you have any questions feel free to comment, email or chat before or after class. Namaste. Ruth 🙏🌸