Fitness Articles

4 Knee Stretches and 7 Strengthening Exercises to Decrease Pain

Need Pain-Free Knees? Start Here!

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If your knees are giving you problems, and you feel like the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz" when getting out of bed, rest assure that at least you’re not alone. In fact, nearly 50 million Americans feel the exact same way.

Knees are the most commonly injured joints in the body. Considering that when you simply walk up stairs, the pressure across your knee joints is four times your body weight, it isn't surprising. Simple, everyday wear and tear can end up hurting your mobility.

But it’s not too late. Like a rusty door hinge, with care and maintenance, your knees can be trouble free. Even if you already experience problems, exercising and strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joints— quadriceps (front of thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), abductor (outside thigh), and adductor (inside thigh)—will help make your knees stronger and less susceptible to injury. Exercise keeps your joints from stiffening and provides needed support, making movement easier and reducing pain.

Knee Stretches

  1. Chair knee extension: Sitting in a chair, rest your foot on another chair so the knee is slightly raised. Gently push the raised knee toward the floor using only leg muscles. Hold for 5 - 10 seconds and release. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
  2. Heel slide knee extension: Lie on your back, with left knee bent and left foot flat on floor. Slowly slide the left heel away from your body so both legs are parallel. Hold for 5-10 seconds, return to starting position. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
  3. Knee flexion: Sitting in a chair, loop a long towel under your foot (resting on the floor). Gently pull on the towel with both hands to bend the knee, raising your foot 4 - 5 inches off the floor. Hold for 5 - 10 seconds, then release. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
  4. Hamstring stretch: Standing, put one foot in front of you, toes up. With hands on the small of your back (or one hand holding a chair for balance), bend the opposite knee and hip (not your lower back), until you feel the hamstrings stretch. The upper body comes forward at the hip. Hold for 5 -10 seconds, then release. Repeat 5 times on each leg.

Knee Strengthening Exercises

  1. Wall slide: Leaning with your back against a wall, bend your knees 30°, sliding down the wall, then straighten up again. Move slowly and smoothly, using your hands on the wall for balance. Keep feet and legs parallel, and do not allow knees to go out over the toes. Repeat 5 -10 times.
  2. Bent-Leg Raises: Sitting in a chair, straighten one leg in the air (without locking the knee). Hold for about one minute. Bend your knee to lower the leg about halfway to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to starting position. Work up to 4 reps on each leg.
  3. Straight-Leg Raises: Sitting in a chair, rest your foot on another chair. Lift the foot a few inches off the chair while keeping your leg straight. Hold for 5 -10 seconds. Return to resting position. Repeat 5 -10 times. (Also work on increasing the time, up to 2-3 minutes if possible.)
  4. Abductor Raise: Lie on your side, propped on one elbow. The leg on the floor bent, the other straight. Slowly lift the top leg, hold for 5 -10 seconds, then lower. (Ankle weights will increase the intensity). Do 1-3 sets with 12-15 repetitions each. Remember to rest in between sets.
  5. Hamstring Curl: Stand with the front of your thighs against a surface (a table or wall). Flex one knee up as far as is comfortable. Hold for 5 - 10 seconds, then lower slowly. If possible, do not touch the floor between repetitions. (Ankle weights will increase the intensity.) Do 1-3 sets with 12-15 repetitions each. Remember to rest in between sets.
  6. Step-Ups: Stand in front of a step, like a sturdy bench or stairs, about two feet high (or less if necessary). Step up onto the support, straighten your knees fully (without locking them) and step down. Maintain a steady pace. If you are comfortable with your balance, pump your arms while doing this exercise. Start with 1 minute, slowly building your time. Gets your heart pumping too!
  7. Stationary Bike: Biking is a good way to increase strength and range of motion. Make sure you have the right positioning of the legs. At the bottom of the pedal stroke, the bend in the knee should be 15 degrees. Start with 10 minutes and slowly increase your time.
Depending on your current level of activity and mobility, a good start is three stretching and three strengthening exercises, three to four times a week. Stretching can be (and should be) done everyday to prevent stiffness and achy joints. These stretches can even be done a few times a day, if needed.

Always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. These exercises are designed to help, not hurt. If you experience pain at any time during the exercise, stop. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.

BONUS TIPS:

If you have increased soreness after doing these exercises, it may help to ice your knee or knees for 10 to 20 minutes. Place a bag of ice (or frozen vegetables) over the joint, with a towel between to protect the skin. Elevate your leg on a chair if ice alone is inadequate.

Remember to include regular cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise as part of a well-rounded routine. Research shows that this type of exercise helps increase pain tolerance. 

To find demonstartions of these lower body exercises (and more), visit our exercise library!

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Member Comments

  • I need to find ways to deal with some knee pain. Hopefully this will help.
  • I have been looking for exercises that are friendly for the knees - especially since mine are starting to give me a lot of trouble lately. I have saved this article and bookmarked it so I can start doing these exercises. Thanks so very much
  • I was planning to post this to Facebook, with my 73 year old sister in mine, as she is having knee pain, due to arthritis. When I saw in the article the suggestion of ankle weights. I changed my mind. I've heard so much about how ankle weights can be dangerous. With the thought that someone might use them, I decided it was a bad idea to post this article. I thought it was a good article otherwise.
  • Great article Coach Jen. Love them all. I am revamping my exercises while getting ready for another 5% Summer Challenge, so these will come in handy.

  • Great timing! This was an answer to prayer, because one of my Sisters is preparing for a total knee replacement, and I'd soooo like to avoid that!
  • They left out one of the most important ones.

    I got this from a well known health magazine. They called it the alphabet exercise. What you do is stand on one foot, lift the other foot up, and with the raised foot draw the letters of the alphabet in the air. What this does is exercise the muscles that stabilize the knee joint; standing on one leg and moving the other foot around keeps it from being static and makes the muscles work harder to keep the knee stable.

    As a martial artist I do my version of this exercise. Stand on one foot and do really slow kicks or sweeps with the other leg. Really slow as in it might take ten seconds or more for each kick. The kick can be as low or as high as your condition allows. The effect of this is the same as the alphabet exercise except that the range of motion of the moving leg is greater so the muscles stabilizing the knee have a broader range of stabilization they need to do, and of course it's also very good self defense training. Low side kicks, as to the foot, shin, knee, or thigh are infinitely better for the purpose of self defense than higher kicks, and they're easier. Putting a hand on a table or wall will make this easier until you do it enough that your knee is very stable and you have developed good balance.
  • At the end of the article there is a link to the exercise demonstration page, for all those asking for pix or videos.
  • Pics and/or videos PLEASE!
  • Please add pictures or demo's. Need to see how to do them. I would like to try this but not sure how.
  • Please revise the article and add pictures! Also, the two-foot support DOES seem way too high. If it's correct, illustrate or explain. If it's incorrect, as so many of us seem to think, it throws into doubt everything else that is written on Spark. Your credibility is at stake! We trust you to give us correct information.
  • NANATERRI1
    Thankyou sovery much for this article. I do have very bad knees. Bone on bone.
  • FROGSMILE
    I agree with the picture people. I also think that a 2 foot step up is quite high.
  • Had knee surgery for a torn meniscus and was told that I had arthritis in my knees. In just the past week my knees have started to ache after walking :(
  • After both knees replacement these are the exercises done with a pt. 4 years later I still do them 3 times a week!
  • GOLDIEJOHNSON26
    These are powerful and useful tips! Thanks for sharing. Taking care of your knees is a hard task especially if you're an athlete and you’re exhausting your knees too much. Applying hot compress can help too! For additional treatments available for knee pain, here’s something that can help you: https://www.placi
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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

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