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Knee, Thigh & Hamstring Exercises

We have ankle exercises for rehabilitation of specific injuries. We have also categorized them into early, mid and late stage exercises although this is only a guide and we recommend seeking professional advice.

Exercises for specific injuries

Mobility exercises

These exercises are often done as soon as possible after injury if pain will allow. The aim is to restore range of motion without putting any damaged tissues under stress. The exact exercises and how quickly you progress through will depend on the type and severity of injury. Active mobility exercises where the athlete physically attempts to move the joint through a range of motion are often the first step.

Heel slides

Heel slidesThis is a knee mobility exercise to increase the range of knee flexion at the joint. It is suitable for early stage rehabilitation after injuries and surgery. The athlete lies on their back on a hard surface. The heel is slowly moved up towards the buttocks, as far as is comfortable(socks can be worn to ensure that the foot slides). After a minute or so, further movement may be possible. A towel or strap wrapped around the ankle can be used to help in the very early stages.

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Assisted knee flexion

Injury ImageThis exercise helps to increase the range of knee flexion available at the joint. It is designed for the early stages of rehabilitation after a knee injury or surgery.  The athlete uses the other leg to gently push back on the lower leg, increasing knee flexion as far as possible.

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Prolonged knee extension

Injury ImageThis exercise is used to help regain full knee extension. Often after a severe knee injury or after surgery it is not possible to fully straighten the knee. The athlete may sit with the foot rested and the knee unsupported. Gravity will help encourage extension, or a weight can be placed just above the knee to add extra force. The position is held for a few minutes as long as it isn’t painful.

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Prolonged knee flexion

Injury ImageThis exercise is used to increase knee flexion. Sometimes after a knee or thigh injury or after surgery on this area it is not possible to fully bend the knee. The athlete is seated, with padding on the lower leg and a strap around the lower leg, wrapped around the back of the chair and the end held in the hands. The athlete pulls the strap until a tight feeling is felt on the knee/thigh. This position is held for a few minutes before attempting to increase the stretch.

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Early strengthening exercises

These exercises are done as soon as pain allows. In some cases within a day or so of injury after the acute stage.

Isomatric quads

Injury ImageIsometric quad exercises aim to strengthen the quads by contracting the muscle, with no, or very little movement of the knee joint.  The athlete can be sitting or supine depending on the degree of injury. Being seated increases the difficulty. Keeping the uninvolved knee in place, the athlete tightens the involved knee pushing it into the table.

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Isometric quad prone

Injury ImageThis exercise strengthens the quads at the front of the thigh. It is for the very early stages of a knee injury or quad strain. To begin strengthening the quad muscles at the front of the thigh the athlete lies on their front with a rolled up towel under the ankle so the knee is very slightly bent. They then push down on the towel to attempt to straighten the leg and contract the quads.

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Isometric hamstring exercises

Injury ImageStatic or isometric hamstring exercises can be used in the early stages of rehabilitation for a knee injury or a hamstring strain to help prevent muscle wasting. The athlete lieson their front with the knee slightly bent. The therapist grasps around the back of the ankle. The athlete tries to bend their knee against the therapists resistance. Start with a gentle contraction and gradually increase force as pain allows. The knee should not move.

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Sit to stand exercise

Injury ImageThis is a simple exercise that works the quadriceps in the early stages of rehabilitation after a knee injury. It is also helpful for the elderly to maintain quad strength. The athlete sits with the knees bent and feet directly under the knees. In a slow and controlled manner, the athlete moves from seated to standing and then back to seated as shown. Ensure the knees do not fall inwards.

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Mid stage knee exercises

During the mid stage exercises progress to gentle strengthening, gradually increasing the load on the joint and through the recovering tissues. Balance and proprioception training usually begins.

Wall squats

Injury ImageThe wall squat exercise is an slightly easier alternative exercise to the squat. By using the wall some of the body weight is supported. The athlete stands with their back against a wall and the feet moved forwards. They perform a squat by sliding the back down the wall and ensuring that the knees do not move forwards past the toes. The squat position can be held for added difficulty, or performed on a single leg only.

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Terminal knee extension

Injury ImageThis exercise increases the weight-bearing strength of the quadriceps. A resistance band is wrapped around the knee and anchored to a table leg or similar upright object. The athlete starts with the knee slightly bent and body weight on the involved leg. The knee is then straightened backwards, against the resistance of the band. The knee should not be locked straight.

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Standing hamstring curl

Injury ImageStanding single leg hamstring curl (leg curl). Start slowly then get faster as your gain in confidence. The athlete stands and flexes the involved knee. Ankle weights can be used to increase difficulty or offer resistance with the hands, or incorporate a resistance band. The athlete may use the hands on stable object to support the body.

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Squat with band

Injury ImageThe resistance band provides lateral or sideways resistance to add another dimension to the squat exercise. Starting with the feet shoulder width apart, the athlete squats down to no more than a right angle at the knee. The knees should not fall inwards and the back should remain straight throughout. This can be performed with a bar over the shoulders or dumbbells in the hands.

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Injury ImageThe squat is a great exercise to work most of the leg muscles, especially the quads and glutes. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing straight forwards. Keep the back straight as you initiate movement at your hips. Push your buttocks out behind you and bend your knees. Do not let your knees move in front of your toes or squat deeper than a 90 degree (right angle) at the knee. Start with shallow squats and increase gradually.

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Straight leg ball pick up

Injury ImageThe straight leg ball pick up strengthens the hamstring muscles in a stretched position. The athlete stands with the heel of the involved leg raised. The uninvolved leg is moved back to provide balance. Ensuring that the back is kept straight the athlete bends to pick up the medicine ball.  All motion involves the pelvis moving around the femurs rather than lumbar flexion.

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Injury ImageThe Plie is a wide squat exercise with the knees pointing outwards. The back should remain straight during the exercise and the pelvis should not til backwards. The athlete stands with the feet turned out. The knees should be bent as if performing a squat, ensuring they do not move forwards past the toes.

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Knee extension with band

Injury ImageKnee extension exercise (or leg extension) using a resistance band to strengthen the thigh muscles. The athlete sits on the edge of the table (or on a chair) with the knees over the edge. The resistance band is placed around the ankle and anchored under the furthest table/chair leg on the side of the leg being worked on. The athlete lifts the foot upwards to straighten the knee, then returns to the starting position. If pain is felt do not continue with this exercise.

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Seated hamstring curl

Injury ImageSeated or supine hamstring curl exercise using a resistance band. The athlete sits with a resistance band around the ankle with both legs straight. A partner holds the band in both hands until it is taut. The partner must not move the band from the starting position. The athlete draws the ankle in towards the buttocks increasing the resistance of the band, then returns to the starting position.

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Hamstring curls

Hamstring curl exerciseThis exercise works the hamstring muscles and can be progressed to use weights depending on the state of the injury.  Lying on their front with the foot pointing down over the edge of the couch, the athlete fully bends the knee. Provided this is pain free, a resistance band or ankle weight can be used to increase difficulty.

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Hamstring catches

Injury ImageSingle leg catch exercises for hamstrings. This starts to strengthen the hamstrings eccentrically or as they lengthen.  In a prone position the athlete lifts both legs to a 90 degree angle. Ensuring that the leg and the foot are not turned outwards the athlete drops the leg attempting to stop or 'catch' the lower leg reaching full extension.

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Late stage knee exercises

These exercises are more functional and sports specific. The aim is to restore full strength and mobility to the joint and return the athlete to full training and competition.

Lunge with ball

Injury ImageA ball can be used with a lunge to help with balance and to add extra weight. The athlete stands with the injured leg a wide stance in front of the other. The athlete holds a medicine ball close to the chest With the weight shifted onto the front leg, the back knee is slowly bent and dropped down towards the floor.

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Lunge on step

Injury ImageBy raising the uninvolved leg on a step the athlete adds more weight to the leg being worked on. The athlete stands with the injured leg a wide stance in front of the other. The uninvolved leg is raised on a step with weight on the toes. With the weight shifted onto the front leg, the back knee is slowly bent and dropped down towards the floor.

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Injury ImageThis exercise is ideal for not only strengthening the muscles of the lower extremity but also for burning calories! The athlete stands with the injured leg a wide stance in front of the other. With the weight shifted onto the front leg, the back knee is slowly bent and dropped down towards the floor. The lunge position may be held to increase difficulty.

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Lateral lunge

Injury ImageBy using a medicine ball in the lateral lunge (side lunge) the athlete is able to add weight to the exercise as well as using it to aid balance. The athlete steps to the side keeping the toes forwards and the feet flat. Whilst keeping the involved leg straight, squat through the hip of the involved leg ensuring that the knee is in line with the foot. The athlete holds the ball out to help maintain balance. Squat as low as possible and hold for 2 seconds. Push back to the starting position.

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Eccentric squats

Injury ImageEccentric squat knee exercises target the hamstrings, glutes and quads. The athlete raises the heels using half a foam roller. Keeping the back straight the athlete lowers themselves down slowly. The athlete returns to the starting position then repeats.

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Norwegian hamstring curl

Injury ImageThe Norwegian hamstring curl (or nordic curl) requires either a partner or gym equipment to lock the lower legs securely. This is a very advanced exercise isolating hamstring muscles. A partner anchors the athlete's calves. A straight line must be maintained from knee to shoulder. The athlete lowers the body as controlled as possible to the floor. At the point whereby the move becomes uncomfortable the athlete lets the body fall to the floor using the hands to control their landing.

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