Whether you’re getting in shape, building flexibility, or just focusing on joint health, knee stretches should be a part of your routine.
These basic exercises can help combat knee pain and stiffness, and help you feel great every day! Plus, you’ll build muscle and increase your range of motion in the process.
If you’re ready to get started with knee stretching, this article is for you. Keep reading to learn about the five best stretches for your knees.
The 5 Best Knee Stretches
Your knee is a joint, not a muscle. So, you technically can’t stretch it.
Because the knee attaches your thigh, shin, and knee cap, you should target the muscles and tendons that surround and support it for stretching.
These include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors and adductors, and iliotibial band.
If you have a preexisting knee injury or intense pain, you should speak with a doctor or physical therapist before you start a stretching routine. They may suggest that you start slow, use hot or cold therapy for added comfort, or wear an orthopedic brace.
These knee braces offer support and stability while you stretch, and can prevent further injury.
1. Hamstring Stretch
If you’re experiencing tightness or pain in the back of the knee, a hamstring stretch is your best bet. And, it’s a top pick for athletes, too.
Because your hamstring runs across the back of the knee, it’s one of the first muscles to feel the effects of a hard workout. This stretch can be done before and after high impact exercise like running to keep your knees feeling good.
This stretch can be performed standing, lying down, and seated. But, if you’re just getting started with knee stretches, you might be most comfortable sitting. This position lets you control the intensity of the stretch.
Some hamstring stretches use a towel or yoga strap to help you bring the knee closer to your abdomen. If you’re new to stretching, skip this step. Start with your natural range of motion and work your way up to a more intense level.
2. Quad Stretch
Tightness in your quadriceps can also be a source of inner knee pain. The tighter this muscle, the more pressure is applied to your kneecap. So, tight quads can create a feeling of pain and pressure coming from behind the joint.
This stretch can be performed standing, kneeling, or even lying down. If you aren’t super flexible, try this exercise lying on one side. You’ll find it easier to grasp your foot, and you won’t struggle to get out of the position once you’re done stretching.
A kneeling quad stretch applies pressure directly to the patella, so you should avoid this version if you have intense knee pain or an existing injury. You can also use a cushioned surface, like a folded yoga mat, to offer more padding.
Also, keep in mind that this is one of the largest muscles in your body, so stretching it will take time. Go slow, and get deep into whatever position is most comfortable for you.
But, listen to your body. Back off from any quad stretch, especially kneeling, that feels too intense.
3. Calf Stretch
Tight calves, often caused by uncomfortable shoes and awkward sitting and standing positions at work, also put pressure on the back of the knee. And, especially tight calves can also contribute to other injuries like plantar fasciitis, causing pain near the heel.
This muscle group is exercised every time you walk, climb, jump, or run. So, even if you don’t feel stiffness or soreness, you could probably use a good stretch. It’s also a top pick for pre and post-workout flexibility, no matter what type of exercise you prefer.
Your calf is actually made up of two paired muscles, the gastrocnemius, and the soleus, working together. So, you’ll want to stretch both! Luckily you’ll use the same exercise but with a different knee position.
Your best option for calf stretches is to perform the exercise standing and facing a wall. And, don’t forget to engage both muscle groups as you stretch.
4. Hip Flexor Stretch
If your hips are tight, your body will compensate by overworking the quads. And, this can put pressure on the knees.
But, just like your knee, the hip is a joint, not a muscle. So, you’ll need to target and stretch the hip flexors. This group of muscles connects your torso to the leg and controls your ability to bend at the waist and bring your knee in toward the body.
Tight hips are often a result of poor posture when standing and seated and poor sleep habits. So, if you’re experiencing intense or prolonged hip pain, you might need to change a few bad habits.
Most hip flexor stretches are performed in the lunging position. Because this can create pressure on the patella, you should use a folded yoga mat or another type of padding if you have a prior knee injury.
And, be careful with how deep you go in the beginning. Lunge too far forward, and you might find it difficult to back out of the position.
5. Figure Four Stretch
The figure four is the most challenging stretch on our list, but it flexes multiple muscle groups, including the glutes and quads, and is great for medial knee pain, too.
Tight glutes can cause the quads and hamstrings to absorb impact, eventually putting pressure on the knees. Overly tense glutes can also contribute to back and leg pain.
To properly perform the figure four stretch, you’ll need to lie on your back. If getting up and down off the floor is a concern, try this exercise on another surface, like a firm mattress. But, be sure that your lower back is supported at all times to prevent injury.
After the figure four, you might feel the need to balance out with an inner thigh stretch. The butterfly is an excellent choice that’s easy on the knees.
Ready, Set, Stretch!
Now that you’ve mastered the basics of knee stretches, you should be ready to incorporate them into your health and fitness routine.
Remember, start slow and gentle, and work your way into deeper stretches as you feel comfortable. And, always listen to your body. Stretching should never be painful!
If you have any previous injuries, consult with a doctor or physical therapist before you start stretching, and consider wearing a brace for added support.
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