After many years of teaching, the most common physical complaint by far is aching knees. It's not a sharp pain, but more reminiscent of dull toothache. Practice seems to exacerbate the problem until you are forced to rest for a few days. The pain stops for a while, so you resume practice only for it to return as though it never went away.
There can be a number of reasons why you may be feeling pain:
This generally affects people over 50, however, if you have had a history of high impact exercises you may have torn your meniscus or suffered ligament damage. Such damage can also bring on early arthritis in the knees. There also appears to be a genetic predisposition towards arthritis of the knee, so check your family history. Ask your doctor for a diagnosis.
Very often people who practice tai chi do not have their knees correctly aligned. Start by checking that your knees are pointing the same direction as your feet in your postures. If that is ok, check that you are not bending them too much. The yang knee should NEVER extend beyond the tip of the toe (i.e. if you draw a vertical line upwards from the toe, the knee should not cross that line). If that is OK, check your movements. Are you over-twisting the knees, by not letting your ankles relax. Thoroughly warm up the ankle before starting. Another common problem is caused by not being supple at the hips. This causes the knees to over-compensate.
Treatments should go in this order:
1. Consult your doctor. Make sure you do not have arthritis or any other injury. A doctor will be able to recommend surgery or injection etc that will definitely help. You may not need any of these, but it is good to rule out the big problems first.
2. Study your form and find out which movements give you pain, then ask your tai chi teacher. They should be able to correct you.
4. An acupuncture specialist will be very effective at helping you to reduce pain. Seriously, it works.
However, there is a more profound way of reducing knee pain, arthritis and general stress on the body. It has a greater impact than most eastern and western treatments. It requires no specialist equipment, and can be done in the privacy of your own home with just a little bit of self control. However, in this modern age of political correctness, recommending it is a little controversial. It has lost me more students than I care to mention by saying it. But I'm trusting you to be strong and not take it personally.......
No really........ lose some weight.
There I said it. We're all still alive and no harm has been done. Not so bad, was it? Not only will it increase your energy, lower your cholesterol, improve mobility, improve sleep pattern, prevent angina, reduce risk of heart disease & stroke, but it will also reduce the stress on your knees.
So are your knees (or ankles or hips) trying to tell you something?