Knee stretches

Dear Alice,

Do you know any good knee stretches?

— In "kneed" of help

Dear In "kneed" of help,

Knees are 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. Your knees may become sore or injured from overuse, physical activity, or simply because of daily wear and tear. Both stretching and strengthening the supporting structures and muscles may help but aren't guaranteed to prevent future knee issues. Stretches incorporating the hamstrings (back of the upper thigh) and quadriceps (front of the upper thigh) are commonly recommended. That being said, because some individuals may have knee problems, or be prone to them, it's a great idea to consult with a certified personal trainer, physical therapist, or health care provider before starting a new physical activity routine. They can advise what may best meet your needs to ensure that you're building up flexibility and strength without putting yourself at risk for injury.

When it comes to building up strength and flexibility, proper form is key. If a trainer isn't an option, reaching out to fitness center staff for basic instructions on equipment can also be useful. If you're rehabilitating after an injury, working with a physical therapist or other health care provider can be critical. If you're experiencing any knee pain, rest is generally a good idea (and at the very least stepping down the intensity of your activities), as is seeking medical attention for any concerns. That being said, here are some common stretches that are suggested from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This may give you some idea of what to expect when working with any of these providers (pictures provided through link):

Standing quadriceps stretch:

  • Use a chair or wall for support.
  • With your right hand, grab the lower part of your shin, right above your foot and bring your right leg up toward your bottom. 
  • Try to keep your knees together. You can stop moving your foot closer when you start to feel the stretch in your thigh.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the left side.

Supine hamstring stretch:

  • On the floor, lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and knees bent.
  • Bring one knee off the floor and toward your chest.
  • Extend your leg into the air, straightening it, and use hands and arms to pull outstretched leg in toward forehead.
  • When you feel the stretch, hold position for 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Repeat with other leg.

However, before jumping into any of these stretches or incorporating them into a routine, it's wise to speak with a health care provider or a physical therapist to make sure that you're doing them properly and that they'll be most supportive of your needs. 

In the meantime, general tips for promoting knee health and reducing the chance of injury include:

  • Maintaining overall flexibility and strength: Strong muscles support your bones and joints.
  • Maintaining a weight that supports your body's needs: Extra weight can put strain on your joints and increase your risk for osteoarthritis and injury.
  • Taking time for conditioning: Make sure you build up to the type of activity necessary to participate in your chosen sport. A good rule of thumb is to build up your workout duration and intensity no more than ten percent each week. Make sure to build in warm up and cool down time when you're getting active, too.
  • Checking your footwear: Wear shoes with proper support. Replacing them when the tread has worn down may be necessary (potentially every six months).
  • Taking 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. If a certain exercise or activity hurts, stop the activity.

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

Good luck!

Last updated Oct 21, 2022
Originally published Jul 23, 1999

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