You have heard it a thousand times: “Don’t lock your knees.” or “Keep your elbows soft.” Locking joints, while performing Yoga, means you are overextending the joint and putting yourself at risk for potential injuries. When you lock your knees, the muscles surrounding the joint become passive in the pose, which puts the strain on the ligaments instead.
By continually putting extra strain on the ligaments, cartilage, and connective tissues, instead of the muscles, they will begin to wear faster than they should. Yoga practitioners must be careful to keep all of the joints actively engaged during poses, to avoid premature wear and tear.
Some Hot Yoga teachers have caused a bit of confusion involving the term, “lock the knee.” If you have ever taken a Hot Yoga class, you probably heard the instructor encouraging students to “lock the knee,” while you are in a balancing posture. Perhaps, you wondered why you would be encouraged to put extra strain on the joints.
This is a classic misunderstanding between teacher and student. What they actually mean when they tell students to “lock the knee,” is to tighten the quadriceps muscle of the leg, which slightly draws the kneecap up. This actively engages the muscles surrounding the knee and provides great support for the rest of the body during standing poses. This can take a bit of practice to get it just right, but once you figure it out, without locking the knee joint, it will not cause harm. However, the knee joint itself should have a very slight crack when using this technique and is never to be locked. A Yoga teacher, who feels it is fine to hyper-extend any joint, needs to attend anatomy classes immediately.
Once you damage a joint, the domino effect begins to take place within the body. Joint capsules hold the lubricant, which allow the joints to move freely and smoothly. When a joint becomes injured, the body sends a message to the muscles that control the joint to contract. This results in a locked joint. If the locked joint is in the back, other joints around it will begin to overcompensate for the injured one. This can result in further wear, and undo strain, on those surrounding joints. Over time, this domino effect can also cause osteoarthritis.
It is important to keep the joints active and strong to avoid these potential problems. When practiced properly, Yoga postures help keep the joints lubricated and smooth. Yoga instructors should always remind students to not lock the knees, or other joints, by keeping them slightly bent, or by engaging the surrounding knee muscles. Practitioners can also avoid joint locks by being extremely conscious and aware of their bodies and how they feel during each pose.