A conditioning program that includes stretches can help increase knee strength and mobility. People can try exercises that engage the glutes, hamstrings, and abductors to reduce soreness and keep the muscles long and flexible.
This article looks at exercises and stretches as part of a conditioning program to reduce knee pain. It also explores other treatments and explains when to speak with a doctor.
A healthcare professional or physical therapist can assess and diagnose knee pain and may recommend that a person perform stretches as part of their rehabilitation.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) advises that a knee conditioning program may improve strength and flexibility in the knees, helping people return to daily activities and enjoy a more active lifestyle.
The organization suggests that strengthening the muscles that support the knee — including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves — can reduce stress on the knee joint, while stretching to improve flexibility can help reduce muscle soreness and stiffness.
The AAOS recommends the following stretches for strengthening the knee joints and improving flexibility after injury or surgery.
People with knee pain or injuries should always speak with a healthcare professional before trying out new exercises.
The AAOS suggests that people warm up with activities such as walking or stationary cycling for 5–10 minutes before doing knee exercises. Then, it advises performing the following knee conditioning program 2 or 3 days per week for around 4–6 weeks.
1. Straight leg raise
A person should feel this exercise working the front of the thigh and aim to do 3 sets of 10 reps, 4 or 5 days per week. As a person gets stronger, they may wish to use an ankle weight or ask a trainer how to perform a similar exercise on a weight machine.
- Lie down on the back, keeping the affected leg straight, and bend the knee of the opposite leg.
- Tighten the thigh muscles of the affected leg and slowly raise it — in a controlled manner — to the height of the other knee.
- Engage and squeeze the thigh muscles and hold the position for 5 seconds.
- Relax and return the straight leg to the floor.
2. Standing calf stretch
A person should do this exercise against a wall and should feel the stretch in their calf muscle and heel. Aim for 2 sets of 6 reps, 6 or 7 days per week.
- Stand facing a wall with the unaffected leg forward and a slight bend at the knee.
- Keep the other leg straight behind, with the heel flat on the floor and toes slightly pointing in.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, keeping the hands on the wall for support, and then relax for 30 seconds. Do not arch the back.
3. Supine hamstring stretch
Someone should feel this stretch at the back of their thighs and behind their knees. Repeat 2 or 3 times, 4 or 5 days per week.
- Lying on the floor with the legs bent, lift one leg off the floor, bringing it to the chest. Clasp the hands at the thigh, not at the knee joint.
- Straighten the same leg, pulling it gently toward the head until feeling a stretch.
- Use a towel or band around the thigh if unable to grasp the leg.
- Hold the position for 30–60 seconds and then repeat with the opposite leg.
4. Calf raises
A person needs a chair to support this exercise and should feel it in their calf muscles. Aim for 2 sets of 10 reps, 6 or 7 days per week.
- Hold onto the back of a chair and stand with weight evenly distributed.
- Put the weight on the foot of the affected knee while lifting the other foot off the floor.
- Raise the heel of the foot on the floor as high as possible, and then slowly lower it while keeping the weight centered on the ball of the foot.
5. Half squats
A person should feel this stretch at the back of the thighs and the buttocks. Do 3 sets of 10 reps, 4 or 5 days each week.
- Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart, holding onto a chair if necessary.
- Keep the chest lifted and slowly lower the hips about 10 inches, as if sitting on a chair. Do not bend at the waist.
- Put the weight through the heel and hold the squat for 5 seconds.
- Push through the heels and bring the body back up to standing.
6. Hip abduction
A person should feel this exercise in their thigh and buttocks and aim to do 3 sets of 20 reps, 4 or 5 days per week.
- Lie on the side with the injured leg on top and the other leg bent underneath.
- Raise the top leg to 45 degrees, keeping the knee straight but not locked or rotated.
- Hold the position for 5 seconds, and then lower the leg and relax for 2 seconds before repeating.
Healthcare professionals may also treat osteoarthritis of the knee with medications or supplements, including:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
- corticosteroid injections
People should contact a doctor or physical therapist if they have persistent or worsening knee pain.
It’s always advisable to check any exercises with a healthcare professional before commencing them, especially if a person has an injury or is experiencing pain.
Knee conditioning exercises can help strengthen the knee and therefore relieve pressure and pain. Stretches can also increase mobility and reduce stiffness.
Experts recommend performing knee conditioning exercises regularly for 4–6 weeks, but people with knee pain should always consult a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regimen.