Stretching and Strengthening Exercises for Knee Pain

Medically Reviewed By Gregory Minnis, DPT
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Exercises for knee pain include stretching the knee, such as quadricep or hip stretches, and strengthening the knee, such as glute bridges and squats. Types of exercises that may benefit knee health include walking and water aerobics. Knee pain is a common issue regardless of age, affecting approximately 30 million people in the United States.

This article walks you through some examples of strengthening and stretching exercises for knee pain. If you are injured, have a condition, or have recently undergone surgery or other treatment for your knee or surrounding joints, consult a doctor before attempting knee exercises.

Exercises for stretching the knees

Stretching maintains the full range of movement of the joint. It may be appropriate when knee pain is minor and not resulting from an underlying condition.

Standing quadriceps stretch

  1. Stand upright with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a chair for support.
  2. Bend your right knee, holding your ankle to pull the leg behind so your foot moves toward your buttock.
  3. Grip your ankle firmly to pull your heel closer to your body and increase the stretch.
  4. Hold your position for 15–30 seconds.
  5. Repeat with the left leg, maintaining a straight back throughout.

Hamstring stretch

  1. Lying on the floor, bend both your legs.
  2. Lift your right leg and hug the knee toward your chest.
  3. Gently straighten your leg and pull it toward your head until you feel it stretching. Do not force the movement.
  4. Hold for 15–30 seconds, then repeat with your other leg.

Heel and calf stretch

  1. Stand and face a wall. Place your hands on the surface in front of you.
  2. Move your right foot as far back as comfortably possible.
  3. Keep your toes facing forward, with your heels flat and knees slightly bent.
  4. Lean forward into the stretch by bending your front knee and holding for 15–30 seconds. Change leg positions and repeat.

Lunging hip flexor stretch

  1. Stand in a lunging stance, and keep your back and trunk straight.
  2. Lean forward. You should feel a stretch in your hip.
  3. To increase the stretch, squeeze your buttocks.
  4. Hold for 15–30 seconds, then change sides and repeat.

Exercises for strengthening the knees

Strengthening the muscles that support your knee reduces stress on the joint.  

Glute bridges

  1. Lying flat on the floor, pull your knees up to a bent position with your feet on the floor.
  2. Pushing through your heels, lift your back off the ground by raising your glutes and engaging your abdominals.
  3. Pause at the top, squeezing your glutes.
  4. Slowly return to your start position and repeat 10 times.

Half squat

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your head looking forward, and slowly squat down 45 degrees.
  3. Pause for 12 seconds, then stand back up by pushing through your heels.
  4. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Leg extensions

  1. Sit down in a chair.
  2. Lay your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  3. Squeeze your thigh muscles, and kick a leg out, straightening the knee without lifting your glutes off the chair.
  4. Pause for 12 seconds, then return to your starting position.
  5. Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 repetitions for each leg.

Side legs raise

  1. Lay on your side with your legs parallel to the floor on top of one another.
  2. Raise the leg on top approximately 2 feet off of the bottom leg. You will feel this on the top part of your thigh and hips.
  3. Briefly pause, then return to your starting position.
  4. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 12 repetitions on each leg.

Prone leg raises

  1. Lay on your stomach with your legs outstretched behind you. Relax your head and arms.
  2. Squeeze your glutes and lift your right leg as high as possible without overarching or rotating the back.
  3. Hold the lifted position for 3 seconds, then reverse the movement.
  4. Repeat this for 2 to 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Other types of exercise for knee pain

Once the strength in your knees improves or a doctor approves, consider adding more exercises to your routine. Low–impact exercises like the following can help prevent future injury:

  • water aerobics
  • inclined walking
  • swimming
  • weighted squats

How to relieve knee pain

If you experience knee pain due to a minor injury such as a sprain, you can help reduce the pain through the RICE method. This involves:

  • Rest: Limit activity for as much as possible within the first 2 days of your injury. Putting excess stress on a damaged joint can make things worse.
  • Ice: Reduce swelling and pain by applying an ice pack for 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Compression: Wrap your injury to prevent swelling with a bandage, but ensure it is not too tight.
  • Elevation: Raise the affected area, for example, by elevating the knee on pillows. This reduces swelling and throbbing, for example, resting your knee on a chair while seated.

If your knee pain results from a more serious underlying cause, your doctor will advise the next treatment steps.

Learn causes and treatments for pain behind the knee.

When to see a doctor

You should seek advice from a doctor if you experience:

  • no improvement after a few weeks
  • an inability to put weight on the knee or move it
  • severe pain and swelling

Your doctor may suggest a scan, such as an X-ray or MRI, to determine the cause of the pain.

Read about how to describe your knee pain to a doctor.

Other treatment options for knee pain

Other than exercises, ways to reduce knee pain include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, relieve pain by reducing inflammation around the affected area. NSAIDs may increase the risk of a stroke, so check with your healthcare professional first.
  • Weight loss: According to Arthritis Care and Research, losing 1 pound of overall body weight reduces the pressure on your knees by 4 pounds. Reducing pressure can reduce pain.

More treatment options for knee pain will depend on its cause. Speak with a doctor for more specific treatment options.

For example, learn more about osteoarthritis, its symptoms, causes, and treatments.


Here are some commonly asked questions about knee pain.

Is walking good for knee pain?

Walking, especially multiple rounds of shorter periods a day, can help reduce knee pain, particularly if you have osteoarthritis. This is due to the improvement in the strength of the quadriceps stimulated by walking.

Can exercise cure knee pain?

For minor knee pain, exercise is an effective way to help. However, it depends on the cause. For example, if you have a damaged anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), you will likely require surgery to cure your knee pain.  

Is cycling good for the knees?

Cycling is a great exercise if you have knee pain due to its low impact. It also strengthens the muscles that help support the knee joint. If you experience pain while cycling, reduce the intensity.


Strengthening exercises are crucial for preventing injury and relieving joint pressure. Stretching maintains flexibility around your knee, which helps alleviate pain.

If you have health conditions or have recently had surgery, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise programs.

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Medical Reviewer: Gregory Minnis, DPT
Last Review Date: 2022 Dec 22
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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