Knee pain can seriously take the spring out of your step. While some of us experience the odd twinge when we run, others cope with chronic knee pain on a daily basis. Whether you’ve suffered a mild strain or deal with the challenging effects of osteoarthritis every day, knee pain can sweep us off our feet (and definitely not in a good way).
Common Knee Problems
The aches and pains that affect our knees come in all sorts of unpleasant ‘flavours’. They can also affect us at different levels of severity. It’s important to treat your knee issue appropriately, and consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
Pushing yourself too hard during exercise can result in knee sprains and strains. Although these issues can feel incredibly painful at the time, they typically resolve within a few weeks without medical intervention. Tendonitis and bursitis are also very common knee niggles which typically resolve on their own, with a spot of TLC at home.
At the more severe end of the spectrum lie issues such as major cartilage damage, a torn meniscus, tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or other knee ligaments and tendons. In some cases, surgery may be required to treat the injury. Conditions including osteoarthritis, Osgood-Schlatter’s disease and gout, meanwhile, are often much longer term and also require specialist treatment.
Whatever the source of your knee pain, there are some active steps you can take that might hasten your recovery. Below you’ll find seven stretches for knee pain, including stretches for sore knees after running, stretches for tendonitis and exercises for other knee issues. The great thing about these exercises is that they can be done pretty much anywhere, by pretty much anyone.
Before you warm up, remember: everybody and every knee is different. Always consult a medical professional if you have any concerns about your knee condition, especially if you suffer from chronic knee pain.
Ready, Steady… Stretch!
Gentle stretching can help ease – and even prevent – a wide range of knee problems. Try these stretches to support your knee’s recovery after a sprain (after a period of rest), or incorporate them into your pre-exercise warm up. Warming up with specialist knee stretches can reduce your risk of injury.
Don’t forget, there are many muscle groups that support, protect and activate the knee. Training these muscles can help to keep your knee in tip-top shape, or help you speed up a knee recovery. That’s why this list includes tips for stretching quads for knee pain, as well as calf stretches and stretches for the back of your knee.
Now, let’s get stretching!
1. Leg raises
Some of the best stretches for knee pain don’t involve your knees at all. In fact, this simple exercise is all about strengthening your quadriceps. This big muscle group, located at the front of the thigh, plays a really important role in knee stability. Strengthening these muscles may help protect your knee during activity.
To complete the movement, start by lying flat on your back on an exercise mat. Bend one knee into an upright position, with your heel on the floor. Raise your straight leg approximately 30cm off the floor, pointing your toes diagonally away from you. Then lower the straight leg to the floor.
Repeat this motion around 10 times, then switch legs. Aim to repeat the sequence three times on each side. Remember to take things at your own pace and always listen to your body. You may be able to do much more, or you may need to start more slowly and build up your strength.
2. Figure four stretch
This pretzel-shaped stretch is all about your glutes (the three gluteal muscles in your buttocks). When different parts of our body become tight, the impact is often passed on to different areas. When your glutes are tight, for example, it can place excess pressure on your quadriceps, which in turn affects your knees. That’s why this stretch focusses on warming and loosening your glutes.
To hold this position, lie flat on your back on the floor, then bend your right knee. Next, place your left foot across the front of your right thigh. Thread your left arm between your thighs and grab hold of the other hand on your right. In this position, you can cradle your right thigh in your hands, then gently pull it towards your chest, bringing the left leg with it. You should feel a nice, gentle stretch in your glutes.
Hold the position for around 20 seconds and allow your body to relax. Then lower your legs, unravel your pretzel shape, and repeat on the same side. Remember; it’s important not to push your body. If this position doesn’t feel comfortable, ease off and try a different stretch.
3. Quad stretch
This is one of the best stretches for back of the knee pain. Again, it’s all about relieving tension in your quads to reduce the impact your knee has to absorb.
To give it a go, lie on your mat on your side. Your bottom leg should stay straight, while your upper leg should bend at the knee behind you. Reach backwards and grab the foot of your bent leg with your hand on the same side. Then, gently pull your foot towards your bottom. You may want to prop your torso up with your other arm to help you hold the position.
4. Lying hamstring stretch
Your hamstring muscles are located at the back of your thigh. These muscles connect directly to the knee, which makes them very important for knee stability.
To complete a lying hamstring stretch, lie flat on your mat and raise one leg straight up into the air. Wrap your hands around your thigh, just above the knee – but not on the knee joint itself. Bend your raised knee as you pull your thigh in towards your chest. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds (or as long as feels comfortable), then carefully straighten the leg up toward the ceiling before lowering it to the ground. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
5. Standing hamstring stretch
This simple exercise is another fantastic stretch for the back of the knee, which focuses on loosening the hamstring muscles.
To work into your hamstrings, simply place one foot in front of the other (roughly 30-40cm) in a standing position. Place your front heel on the floor with your toes pointing diagonally upwards.
Bend your rear knee slightly and ‘sit’ backwards with your hips, keeping your front leg straight. Sit backwards until you feel a gentle stretch along the back of your front leg, then hold the position for around 30 seconds (if it is comfortable). Repeat on the other side.
6. Calf stretch
Tight calves are a common problem that can put a lot of pressure on both your knees and your feet. This calf stretch is nice and easy, and it could help reduce the impact that walking and running has on your knee.
Find a clear piece of wall and stand facing it, approximately a metre away. Put one leg straight behind you, the other should be in front, slightly bent at the knee. The position should look something like a high lunge.
Put your arms straight in front of you and place both of your palms flat against the wall. Lean into your palms, as if you are trying to push the wall away. This should give you a powerful stretch in the back of your rear lower leg. Ease into this pose and don’t do too much too soon. When you’ve stretched comfortably, switch legs and repeat.
7. Half squats
This exercise will put some gentle pressure on your knees, so if they’re feeling especially painful, it may be preferable to try one the other stretches above.
A half squat does exactly what it says on the tin! To master the movement, stand with your feet hip distance apart. Gently bend your knees and send your bottom backwards, until you’re holding a “half-sitting” position. Your arms should be straight out in front of you to counterbalance the stretch. Lift your chest and don’t slump – your back should stay straight in this pose. Hold the position for five seconds, then slowly stand back up.
Repeat the half squat 10 times, until you can do three sets of 10 in one session.
Over to You!
Have you tried any of these stretches for knee pain? We’d love to hear about your experiences. To Better Days is working towards a better understanding of chronic pain, which makes your stories very, very important to us. Whether you’d like to submit your pain story or share an exercise that helps ease your knee pain, we’re all ears.