What is the best knee stretches? Here we demonstrate simple stretching techniques to relieve common injuries causing knee pain.
The following knee stretches are from our knee rehabilitation programs. They are used by our elite-level sports physiotherapists for injury rehabilitation as well as preventing knee pain.
England Senior Rugby Team Physiotherapist since 1997
Paul is head of Medical Services at Millwall Football Club
The main muscle groups to stretch for knee pain are the quadriceps at the front of the thigh and the hamstrings at the back of the thigh. However, the adductor muscles on the inside of your thigh as well as the abductor muscles on the outside of your hip are also important.
Quadriceps knee pain stretches
These exercises stretch the quadriceps muscles at the front of your thigh. They are particularly important for knee pain caused by the following injuries:
Also important for:
Standing quad stretch
This is one of the most important knee pain stretches.
- Stand on one leg and pull your foot up behind
- Keep your knees together
- You should be able to feel a gentle stretch at the front of your thigh
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds then relax
- Repeat after a short break
You can increase the stretch on three of the four quadriceps muscles by tilting your pelvis forwards. The large rectus femoris muscle is taken out of the stretch. This is because it attaches to the front of the hip, crossing both the hip and knee joints (called a biaxial muscle). Try to do this knee stretching exercise at least twice a day.
Myofascial quadriceps stretch
- Kneel on one knee with your back foot resting on a step or similar
- Make sure you use a cushion or padded mat to protect your knee, especially if you have knee pain
- You should feel a gentle stretch at the front of your thigh
- Hold your arms out in front, then raise them up above your head to increase the stretch
- Hold for 30 to 40 seconds
Knee stretches for the hamstrings
These exercises stretch the hamstring muscles at the back of your knee. They are important for avoiding and treating the following injuries and conditions:
If you have postural issues such as hyperlordosis where your lumbar spine curves in too much then you should avoid stretching your hamstring muscles too much, and focus more on the hip flexors.
Static hamstring stretches
Static knee pain stretching exercises involve little or no movement. You can do this one either standing or sitting.
- Simply ease into the stretch and hold
- You should feel a gentle pull at the back of your upper thigh
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, relax and repeat
- Aim to do this exercise at least twice a day
Myofascial hamstring stretch
Here we demonstrate three variations.
- From kneeling, place one foot in front of the other and slowly stand up. Heel your back heel flat on the floor and your hands in contact with the floor as your stand up. Hold for 30 to 40 seconds
- Whilst sitting extend one leg out in front. Keep your head and chest up. Lean forwards to feel a stretch at the back of the thigh. Hold for 30 to 40 seconds
- Using a band lie back and pull your leg up and over. This stretches the muscle fibres higher up the leg. Hold for 30 to 40 seconds
Knee pain stretches: Hamstring sweep
This is dynamic mobilisation/stretching of the hamstrings using both legs alternating.
- Walk forwards brushing your fingers on the floor as you go
- Walk for 3 – 5m and repeat up to 5 times
These stretch the hamstring muscles dynamically.
- Slowly swing your leg forwards as far as it is comfortable
- Stay relaxed throughout
- Repeat 10 times
- A more advanced version of this exercise is swinging your leg faster and higher
- Stay relaxed
Hip stretches for knee pain
The following stretching exercise does not specifically stretch the main muscles around the knee. However, it is important for knee pain caused by Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS).
Tensor fascia latae (TFL) stretch
This stretches the muscles on the outside of the hip.
Standing ITB stretch
- Place the leg you want to stretch behind the other one
- Keep your foot on the floor and push your hips out to the other side until a stretch is felt in the outer hip
- You may also feel a stretch down the outside of the thigh
- Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 5 times, and do this at least three times a day
- Hold on to something to balance if you need to
Partner ITB knee pain stretches
This is probably the most effective stretch for the iliotibial band and tensor fascia latae muscle but it does require some assistance.
- Lie on your back and let the partner or therapist lift the non-stretching leg out of the way
- Then pull the stretching leg across to feel a deep stretch on the outside of the hip
- This stretch can be performed statically by taking the stretch as far as possible and holding it for 30 seconds