Knee stretches

Originally Published: July 23, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 16, 2008
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Dear Alice,

Do you know any good knee stretches?

—In "kneed" of help

Dear In "kneed" of help,

Knees are extremely complex joints. They are made up of many ligaments, tendons, and cartilage that cushion and connect bones and muscles of the upper and lower legs. Our knees may become sore or injured from overuse, exercise, or simply as a result of daily wear and tear. Strengthening and stretching supporting structures and musculature will help but may not prevent all issues with the knees.

Some general tips for promoting knee health and reducing the chance of injury include:

  • Maintain overall flexibility and strength — strong muscles support your bones and joints.
  • Check your footwear — the wrong shoes, athletic or otherwise, can exacerbate existing conditions or trigger new problems. Excessive wear on one side may indicate an issue with gait and is a good indicator to seek help.
  • Take it easy — your body knows when it needs to rest and your knees are no different. Tune in to what your body is telling you.
  • Maintain a healthy weight — chronic knee pain is often triggered by extra weight.
  • Buckle up! Protecting your knees from injury in a car accident is yet another reason to use your seatbelt.

You can increase the likelihood of having healthy knees by strengthening the muscles in your legs. Because some individuals may have knee problems, or be prone to them, it's a great idea to consult with a certified personal trainer before starting a new routine. At Dodge Fitness Center, Columbia students can meet with a personal trainer to determine the best workout regimen and learn the proper use of training equipment. If a trainer isn't an option, relying on fitness center staff for basic instructions on equipment can also be useful. It's especially important to work with a physical therapist or other health care provider if you are rehabilitating after an injury.

Stretching the muscles that support the knees is an important component of any exercise program. Stretches should include the hamstrings (back of the upper thigh) and quadriceps (front of the upper thigh). The calf muscles and shins also need to be stretched and strengthened as they contribute to the structure of the leg.

Quadriceps stretch (lying on one side):

  1. Lie on your side with your thighs side by side.
  2. As you bring the ankle of your top leg back towards the buttocks, reach back with the free hand and grab hold of your ankle (keeping the leg parallel to the ground).
  3. Press your hip forward and slightly extend it, then hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds and repeat for each leg

Standing quadriceps stretch:

  1. Use a chair or wall for support.
  2. With your right hand, grab the lower part of your shin, right above your foot and bring your right leg behind your body.  
  3. Push your hip forward slightly and keep your knees together. The emphasis is on pushing your hip forward a little, not pulling your leg backward (otherwise, you may injure your knee).
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the left side.

Hamstring stretch:

  1. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Raise one leg without lifting your hips from the floor.
  3. Gently push your heal up to the ceiling — beginners may grasp their leg behind the upper thigh or use a stretching band. Movement should be slow and steady.

If you're experiencing any knee pain, rest is generally a good idea, as is seeking medical attention for any concerns. Since knees are so complex, many things can go wrong. Generally, if your knees hurt, avoid activities that put a heavy load on the joints. Some examples may be squats, lunges, stair climbing, and running up and down hills. Cross training with activities such as swimming and cycling reduce load yet still work the muscles of the lower body.

Learning to tune into your body and it's "kneeds" will help you know when to stretch, when to rest, and when to seek help.

Alice