A conditioning program that includes stretches can help increase knee strength and mobility. People can try exercises that target the glutes, hamstrings, and abductors to reduce pain and keep the muscles long and flexible.
This article looks at exercises and stretches as part of a fitness program to reduce knee pain. It also explores other treatments and explains when to speak to a doctor.
Knee pain can occur due to conditions such as arthritis or injuries such as tearing of the tendons, ligaments or menisci that support the knee or dislocation.
A health care professional or physical therapist can assess and diagnose knee pain and may recommend that a person do stretches as part of their rehabilitation.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) advises that a knee conditioning program can improve strength and flexibility in the knees, helping people return to daily activities and enjoy a more active lifestyle.
The organization suggests that strengthening the muscles that support the knee — including the quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves — can reduce pressure on the knee joint, while stretching to improve flexibility can help reduce muscle soreness and stiffness.
Learn more about common causes of knee pain.
The AAOS recommends the following stretches for strengthening knee joints and improving flexibility after injury or surgery.
People with knee pain or injuries should always talk to a healthcare provider before trying any new exercises.
The AAOS suggests that people warm up for 5-10 minutes with activities such as walking or stationary cycling before doing knee exercises. It is then advised to perform the following knee conditioning program 2 or 3 days a week for approximately 4-6 weeks.
1. Raise the straight leg
A person should feel this exercise working the front of the thigh and aim to do 3 sets of 10 reps, 4 or 5 days a week. As a person gets stronger, they may want to use an ankle weight or ask a trainer how to perform a similar exercise on a weight machine.
- Lie on your back, keep the affected leg straight and bend the knee of the other leg.
- Tighten the thigh muscles of the affected leg and slowly lift it – in a controlled manner – to the height of the other knee.
- Engage and tighten the thigh muscles and hold the position for 5 seconds.
- Relax and return the straight leg to the floor.
2. Standing calf stretch
A person should do this exercise against a wall and should feel the stretch in their calf muscle and heel. Aim for 2 sets of 6 reps, 6 or 7 days a week.
- Stand facing a wall with the unaffected leg forward and a slight bend at the knee.
- Hold the other leg straight back, with the heel flat on the floor and the toes pointed slightly inward.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, keeping hands against the wall for support, then relax for 30 seconds. Do not arch the back.
3. Stretching the hamstring in the supine position
Someone should feel this stretch on the back of their thighs and behind their knees. Repeat 2 or 3 times, 4 or 5 days a week.
- Lying on the floor with legs bent, lift one leg off the floor and bring it to the chest. Grab the hands by the thigh, not the knee joint.
- Straighten the same leg and gently pull it towards the head until you feel a stretch.
- Use a towel or band around the thigh if you can’t grasp the leg.
- Hold the position for 30-60 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
4. Calf raises
A person needs a chair to support this exercise and should feel it in their calf muscles. Aim for 2 sets of 10 reps, 6 or 7 days a week.
- Hold the back of a chair and stand with your weight evenly distributed.
- Place the weight on the foot of the affected knee while lifting the other foot off the floor.
- Raise the heel of the foot as high as possible on the floor and slowly lower while keeping the weight centered on the ball of the foot.
5. Half squats
A person should feel this stretch on the back of the thighs and buttocks. Do 3 sets of 10 reps, 4 or 5 days a week.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold onto a chair if necessary.
- Keeping the chest up, slowly lower the hips about 10 inches, as if you were sitting in a chair. Do not bend at the waist.
- Place the weight through the heel and hold the squat for 5 seconds.
- Push through the heels and return the body to an upright position.
6. Hip abduction
A person should feel this exercise in their thighs and buttocks and aim to do 3 sets of 20 reps, 4 or 5 days a week.
- Lie on your side with the injured leg on top and the other leg bent underneath.
- Raise the top leg to 45 degrees, keeping the knee straight but not locked or twisted.
- Hold the position for 5 seconds, then lower the leg and relax for 2 seconds before repeating the exercise.
Learn more about exercises to strengthen the knee.
Health care professionals may also treat osteoarthritis of the knee with medications or supplements, including:
A health care professional may recommend pain medications such as acetaminophen, NSAIDs, or the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) protocol for knee pain due to a sports injury.
Learn more about home remedies for knee pain.
People should contact a doctor or physical therapist if they have persistent or worsening knee pain.
It is always advisable to check exercises with a healthcare provider before starting them, especially if someone has an injury or is experiencing pain.
Knee conditioning exercises can help strengthen the knee and thereby relieve pressure and pain. Stretching exercises can also increase mobility and reduce stiffness.
Experts recommend regular knee conditioning exercises for 4-6 weeks, but people with knee pain should always consult a doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.