Stretches for the Knee

What are the best ways to stretch the muscles that surround and support your knees? Your physical therapist can show you how.

The knee joint is one of the largest joints in the body. It is comprised of two bones, the femur and tibia, that are connected by four strong ligaments. Your knee also has a small bone in the front of the joint called the patella, or kneecap. This bone helps to provide a mechanical advantage to your quadriceps muscles so that they work more effectively.

The knee is the most commonly injured joint in all age groups. It is especially susceptible to damage during athletic activities and exercise. However, stretching and strengthening the muscles and tendons of the knee joint may help reduce the risk of injury.

If you are having knee pain, you may benefit from physical therapy to help you manage your condition. Your PT will assess your situation and provide strategies to help you fully recover. Stretching exercises may be one component of your PT knee rehab.

Here are some effective and easy stretches for the knee joint. Remember to check in with your doctor or physical therapist before starting these, or any other stretches, for your knee.

Ilitotibial Band Stretch

  1. Stand upright.
  2. Cross the injured leg behind the opposite leg.
  3. Lean to the non injured side until a stretch is felt across the outside of your thigh region.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat five times.

    Another great way to effectively stretch your iliotibial band on the outside of your knee is to do it while lying on your side. This is done by lying on one side, and grasping your ankle on the top leg by bending your knee backwards. You should feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Then, gently rest your bottom ankle on top of your knee, and pull it down towards the floor.

    This should gently stretch the IT band as it crosses your knee joint. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and then relax.

    Quadricep Stretch

    1. While standing, hold onto a counter top or chair back to assist in balance.
    2. Bend your knee back by grasping your ankle with one hand.
    3. Assist in bending your knee back as far as possible.
    4. Maintain this position for 30 seconds.
    5. Return to standing position.
    6. Repeat the exercise 5 times with each leg.

    Hamstring Stretch

    1. Sit on the floor with both legs out straight.
    2. Extend your arms and reach forward, bending at the waist as far as possible while keeping your knees straight.
    3. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Relax.
    4. Repeat this exercise 5 more times.

    Another great stretch for the hamstrings is the standing hamstring stretch. To do it, stand up and place one heel on a small step or curb. Reach your arms forward and up, and slowly bend your trunk forward at your hips. Keep reaching up until a stretch is felt behind your thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and return to the starting position.

    Calf Stretch

    1. Sit with your feet out in front of you.
    2. Hold one end of a sheet or towel in each hand, forming a loop.
    3. Place the loop around your foot.
    4. Pull your toes toward you.
    5. Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch in your calf muscle.
    6. Hold for 20 seconds, and repeat 5 more times.
    7. Switch legs and repeat.

    Stretching with a Towel or Strap

    Your physical therapist can show you how to use a strap or a towel to perform these stretches for your knees as well. The motions will be the same, but you will use a long strap or towel to provide the stretching force. Towel stretches for muscles around your knee may include:

    Check in with your physical therapist and learn how to properly stretch the muscles around your thighs and lower legs. This can help keep your knee joints moving freely through their full range of motion (ROM) to help prevent injury and help you maintain full functional mobility.

    Edited by Brett Sears, PT.

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