Although knee pain can feel limiting, exercise is one of the best ways to alleviate pain and prevent it in the future. Regular exercise to strengthen the muscles around the knee can reduce pressure on joints and alleviate pain and discomfort from conditions such as osteoarthritis, tendinitis, meniscal tears, and patellofemoral syndrome.1 Stretching is also important, as tight muscles can exacerbate patellofemoral pain1 and are more prone to injury.2
Before starting your exercise routine, it’s important to warm up with a low impact activity, like walking, cycling, or using an elliptical, for about 10 minutes.
1. Supine hamstring stretch (3 sets): Lie on your back with your leg extended. Wrap a yoga strap or a towel around your foot and lift your leg so that your foot is parallel to the ceiling. Pull on the yoga strap/towel until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh, without locking the knee. For a deeper stretch, pull your leg closer to your chest, making sure to keep the knee straight. If you do not have a yoga strap/towel, use your hands to support your leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the other leg.1
2. Quadriceps stretch (3 sets): Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your leg, bringing your foot toward your buttocks. Grasp your ankle or foot and pull your foot closer, until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. If necessary, hold onto a chair or wall for balance. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the other leg. You can also do this stretch laying on your stomach, using a yoga strap or towel wrapped around your foot to assist with the stretch.1,2
3. Heel and calf stretch (3 sets): Place your hands on a wall and move one foot back as far as is comfortable. Both knees should be slightly bent, and both heels should be flat on the ground. Lean forward so that you bend your forward knee, feeling a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the other leg.3
4. Straight leg raise (2–3 sets of 10): Lie on your back with one leg extended and the other leg bent. Contract the quadriceps in the extended leg and slowly raise it until it’s about the height of your bent knee. Pause, then slowly lower your leg to the floor. It’s easy to arch your back during this exercise, so make sure to tighten your core to keep your back pressed to the floor.2,3
5. Side leg raise (2–3 sets of 10): Lie on your side with both legs straight. Support your head in your hand. Keeping your knee straight, slowly raise your leg toward the ceiling, as high as is comfortable. Pause, then lower your leg. Keep your core tight and your pelvis still during this exercise. To increase the difficulty, add ankle weights.1,3
6. Hamstring curls (2–3 sets of 10): Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Bend your knee, bringing your foot toward your buttocks. Pause, then slowly lower your leg.2,4
7. Clamshell (2 sets of 10): Lie on your side with your knees bent, resting your head on your arm. Making sure your feet remain stacked on each other, slowly turn your top leg outward so that your hip slightly rotates and your knee points toward the ceiling. Then, slowly lower your leg.4
8. Squats (2 sets of 10): Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your body as far as you can without irritating the knee, keeping your body weight on your heels. Pause, then rise by pushing through your heels. Hold onto a chair for balance if necessary. Make sure to keep your back straight.3,4
9. Wall squat (2 sets of 10): Stand with your back and hips against a wall. Step your feet about two feet in front of you, hip-width apart. Slide down the wall slowly until you are in a sitting position, keeping your hips from sliding below the knees. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, or longer if you want to increase the difficulty. Slide up and repeat.2
10. Step ups (2–3 sets of 10): Step forward onto a 6-inch stool or platform with one foot, lifting your other foot off the ground and letting it hang loosely. Pause, then lower your hanging foot back to the ground. Step off and repeat with the other leg. You can also do this by stepping sideways onto the stool/platform. Do not lock the knee that is stepping onto the stool/platform.2
Editor’s note. If any of the above exercises cause or increase pain in the knee, do not do them. It is important to consult with a physician or physical therapist to individualize your exercise routine in order to get the best results.
- Bilodeau K. Take control of your knee pain. Harvard Health Publishing. 1 Sep 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/take-control-of-your-knee-pain. Accessed 3 Jan 2023.
- OrthoInfo. Knee exercises. Reviewed Feb 2009. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/knee-exercises/. Accessed 3 Jan 2023.
- Lindberg S. 10 exercises to help relieve knee pain. Healthline. 13 Dec 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/exercises-for-knee-pain. Accessed 3 Jan 2023.
- Blum K. 8 knee-strengthening exercises to reduce pain. American Association of Retired Persons. 25 Apr 2022. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2022/exercises-for-knee-pain.html.