16 Physical Therapy Exercises For Knee Pain

You use your knees daily to sit and walk. The constant use puts the complex joint at risk for injury. Common knee injuries include sprains, meniscus tears, ligament tears, and fractures. Most injuries can be treated with simple bracing and a focused physical therapy (PT) knee rehab program.

To help my patients (and myself), I put together a list of my favorite knee stretches and exercises. You can download a PDF here.

Here is a list of 16 medically reviewed exercises for knee pain:

If you are suffering from knee pain that ranges from mild to moderate pain, then you will want to seek medical advice before hitting the gym. Certain strenuous exercises could aggravate the situation, so you’ll want to take it slow and easy in order to avoid a serious knee injury. See a physician to determine the possible cause and treatment for you.

Improving Your Knee Health

Some mild forms of knee pain can be treated at home. Simple stretching exercises bring much-needed relief. Stretches for knee pain are simple to perform and require very little time per day. Even if your knee stops hurting, daily stretching can prevent future bouts of discomfort. I highly recommend PT for knee pain.  Although there’s no substitute for a professional physical therapist to guide you, I’ve put together some easy knee exercises to help you do at home. If you need extra knee support, check out these braces.

17 Knee Stretches And Exercises For Pain And Rehabilitation Social

Easy Warm-Up and Knee Stretching Routine

Warm-up exercises are crucial any time you want to work your knee to relieve pain. The simple exercises get blood flowing to your muscles while easing joint stiffness. If you have a foam roller, consider rolling out your thighs and IT band if you can handle the pain.

Lateral Pendulum (Warm-Up)

You must warm-up before a workout. The Lateral Pendulum is a great way to start slow and increase the range of motion.

Lateral Pendulum Warm Up
  1. Face the wall and place your hands on its surface for support.
  2. Swing your left leg left to right in front of you.
  3. Undertake a linear swing to improve your range of motion.
  4. Place a hand on your abdomen so you can monitor the motion of your pelvis because your abdominals will contract as you move your leg.
  5. Swing your leg and repeat with the right leg.
  6. For increased intensity, add a resistance band.

Forward Pendulums (Warm-Up)

The forward swing is ideal for hamstrings and hip flexors. It will warm up your knee for walking or running.

02 Forward Pendulums (warm Up) 01
  1. Support yourself on a wall with one hand
  2. Swing your leg forward in a pendulum-like motion.
  3. Maintain a straight posture.
  4. Do not swing your leg aggressively but only lightly with a gradual increase in motion. You will feel your knee and leg loosen.
  5.  Perform 20 reps on each leg.

Standing Quad Stretch

The Standing Quad Stretch is an ideal way to stretch your quadriceps muscle group: vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and vastus lateralis. People who enjoy cycling, yoga, and running often opt for this easy-to-perform exercise to improve knee flexibility

Standing Quad Stretch
  1. Stand on a single leg.
  2. Bend your right leg at the knee and bring you heal back to your buttocks.
  3. Reach around your body to grasp your ankle with your opposite hand.
  4. Pull your abdominal muscles tight while you stand straight.
  5. Relax your shoulders as you hold your ankle.
  6. Gently pull your ankle back towards your body and hold for 30 seconds and then repeat. You will feel stretching in your quadricep muscles.
  7. Perform this stretch exercise at least five times per side.

Basic Hamstring Stretch

The basic hamstring stretch is an ideal way to feel the stretch in your knee. However, when undertaking this exercise please be cautious if you have sciatica pain because it can aggravate the situation.

Basic Hamstring Stretch
  1. Sit with your legs straight so they are positioned out in  front of you.
  2. Stretch out your arms and reach forward when you bend at the waist while keeping your knees straight.
  3. Hold the position for at least 15 seconds.
  4. Relax and sit back up.
  5. Repeat three times.

You will feel a gentle pull in the back of your thigh muscles.

IT Band Stretch

Using an exercise band, you can perform the IT Band Stretch. The stretch is a common exercise used by physical therapists.

It Band Stretch
  1. Lay on your back.
  2. Bend your affected knee and grab your ankle.
  3. Pull your ankle back so that the bottom of your foot is on the side of your knee.
  4. Grab your foot and pull it towards the floor so it is along the outside of your top thigh.
  5. Hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds. You will feel the stretch nicely.
  6. Repeat each side five times.

Supine Hamstring Stretch

If you are looking for a hamstring stretch, then the Supine Hamstring Stretch is ideal. It’s easy to perform and effective.

Supine Hamstring Stretch
  1.  Lie on your back on the floor.
  2. Bend both knees with your foot flat on the floor.
  3. Loop a towel around the back of our left thigh.
  4. Tighten your abdominal muscles
  5. Pull the towel to lift your leg towards your chest.
  6. Try to straighten your leg.
  7.  Raise your leg high.
  8. Hold the position for 30 seconds before lowering your leg back down to the floor.
  9. Switch legs.
  10. Repeat two or three times.

Downward Dog Calf Stretch

When it comes to a basic calf stretch the Downward Dog is the leader. A classic yoga pose, it helps stretch your calf muscles.

Downward Dog Calf Stretch
  1. Position your body in a high plank so that your hands are located directly beneath your shoulders.
  2. You will want to shift your weight so that your butt arches upwards towards the ceiling and forms an inverted V with your body.
  3. Press your heels into the ground so your calf muscles stretch while maintaining your V form.
  4. Bend your knees slightly and press your heels down to the ground to pull your calf muscles.
  5. Repeat five times.

Knee Strengthening Exercises For Physical Therapy

The following knee stretch exercises can help bring pain relief. Each one is easy to perform and beneficial in helping restore pain-free mobility to your knee joint.

Straight Leg Raises

Straight Leg Raises are simple and will strengthen your quadricep muscles. This is one of the simple exercises that do not put pressure on your knee.

Straight Leg Raises
  1. Lie on your back on the floor.
  2. Bend your knee so your left foot is flat on the ground.
  3. Keep your other leg straight on the ground and then raise it to the level of your bent knee while keeping the leg straight. Feel a stretch.
  4. Repeat 10 times for each side.

Prone Straight Leg Raises

This exercise is like the Straight Leg Raises but you do it on your stomach. Many people find it beneficial to first do the Straight Leg Raises and then roll over to perform the Prone Leg Raises.

Prone Straight Leg Raises Knee
  1. Lie flat on your stomach with your leg straight.
  2. Tighten the muscles in your buttocks and the hamstring down the left leg.
  3. Lift the leg to the ceiling.
  4. Hold the leg up for three to five seconds.
  5. Lower the leg raise and repeat
  6. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Quad Sets

If you want your knee to function, then you must build muscle in the top of your thigh. A quad stretch maintains and builds the muscle.

Quad Sets
  1. Sit down on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
  2. Tighten your thigh muscles by pressing your leg down onto the floor and forcing the back of your knee flat.
  3. Hold for at least 80 seconds and repeat the other side.
  4. Perform at least five reps per leg.

Floor Quad Extensions

Think of the Floor Quad Extension as ‘extra’ compared to the Quad set. Its a simple knee extension exercise. The exercise is beneficial and can be combined with the Quad Set.

Floor Quad Extensions
  1. Lie comfortably with your elbows offering support.
  2. Bend your leg at the hip while keeping the knee bent.
  3. Extend the knee so your leg is straight.
  4. Hold for 3 seconds

You have effectively worked your core and your legs with this exercise. If you experience hip pain and discomfort, consider stretching those hips, too.

Floor Lateral Leg Raises

Floor Lateral Leg Raises are good for your buttocks and gentle on your knees. Overall, the exercise helps keep your entire lower body healthy.

Floor Lateral Leg Raises
  1. Lie on your side.
  2. Rest your arm under your head for support.
  3. Raise the top leg.
  4. Keep the feet pointed forward.
  5. Hold until you feel the tension.
  6. Lower the leg.
  7. Repeat five times for each side.


Squats are a great exercise for your lower body and knees. However, do not overdo them if they cause you discomfort.

  1. Stand tall.
  2. Bend your knees and lower your body downward.
  3. Stand up and straighten your legs so you are again standing tall.
  4. Repeat five to 10 times depending on your unique physical ability.

Back Lunges

A Back Lunge also called a Reverse Lunge, is preferable for those with knee pain. It is a quick and easy exercise that is performed smoothly.

Back Lunges
  1. Stand tall.
  2. Keep your hands at your hips.
  3. Take a step backward using your left foot.
  4. Lower your hips so that your right leg is parallel with the floor. Your knee should be above your ankle.
  5. Maintain your left knee at a 90-degree angle so it is pointed toward the ground with your left heel lifted.
  6. Return to your original standing position.
  7. Alternate legs
  8. Perform a set of 20 reps.

Donkey Kicks

Donkey Kicks

Glue Kicks are an easy and popular exercise that just happen to be great for the knees. You can perform the kicks fast or slow.

  1. Kneel on the floor on all fours.
  2. Keep your head forward.
  3. Create a 90-degree angle with your knees.
  4. Exhale and lift your left leg.
  5. Hold the position.
  6. Kick out like a donkey.
  7. Alternate legs.

Roundhouse Kicks

Roundhouse Kicks are martial arts moves but, in this case, you are going to use them to strengthen your legs. It is a simple exercise with great all-around benefits.

Roundhouse Kicks
  1. Support your body on all fours while bearing the weight on your elbows and knees.
  2. Align your hips with your knees.
  3. Rotate your right knee so it is parallel with the floor.
  4. Flex your foot and kick you heel out to the side while keeping your knee facing forward.
  5. Bend your knee and return it to the floor.
  6. Repeat with each leg.

Improve Your Range Of Motion For Long Lasting Knee Pain Relief!

I hope that you find all the above stretching exercises beneficial for your knee rehabilitation. If you have knee osteoarthritis (knee OA) consider one of these knee braces.

Physical therapy is a great tool to help you improve your range of motion and reduce pain. Your doctor may recommend some of these exercises as part of your knee surgery recovery.

If you enjoyed this post, check out our list of physical therapy exercises for your entire body.

Photo of author

Dr. Kristina DeMatas

Dr. DeMatas practices holistic, evidence-based family medicine that focuses on treating injuries and transforming lives through prevention, rehabilitation, and diet. She is a licensed, practicing Physician at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Read bio.


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