4 Physical Therapy Exercises for Knee Pain

If knee pain has you sitting on the sidelines, these exercises may provide relief.

Many athletes experience knee pain, often due to overuse and injury. Whether you’re dealing with chronic aches or recovering from trauma, physical therapy exercises can help quicken the healing process.

The following list includes light stretches, which can relieve tension and improve alignment, as well as strengthening exercises, which help build the surrounding muscles and prevent future injuries. Just remember: these four exercises are a great way to get started, but you should always seek a diagnosis from an orthopedic specialist before beginning a physical therapy regimen in order to avoid complications.

1. PASSIVE KNEE FLEXION

If you’re recovering from an injury, it’s best to start with a light and easy stretching routine and then ease the knee into further activity. Flexion and extension exercises will help you test and extend the range of motion in your knee.

For the passive knee flexion exercise, you’ll need a strap or band that you can loop around your foot. Lie on your front, propped up on your elbows so that you can look ahead. Starting with your legs straight back and the strap over your shoulder, pull the band so that your knee begins to bend, bringing your foot up toward the back of your thigh. Go slowly until you feel a slight stretch. Hold this for 5-10 seconds, then release. Repeat the exercise several times with each knee.

2. PASSIVE KNEE EXTENSION

For the knee extension exercise, sit on the floor with your leg extended and a pillow or small foam roller under your ankle. Make sure that there is some space between your knee and the floor. For an extra stretch, you can place a light weight on your knee, just above the joint (make sure it’s not directly on the kneecap). Relax and allow your knee to extend, coming closer to the floor. Hold this for 15 seconds.

3. STRAIGHT LEG RAISES

Straight leg raises are a great way to target the muscles surrounding the knee without straining the joint itself. For this strengthening exercise, you can lie down or, for more control, semi-recline against a wall or piece of furniture. Bend the knee of the leg you aren’t using. Your goal is to target the quadriceps, so make sure your thigh is engaged as you slowly lift your leg to about 30 degrees, then lower. As long as your knee pain doesn’t worsen during the exercise, we recommend three to five sets of 10 repetitions each.

4. HAMSTRING CURLS

Hamstring curls help you strengthen the often-neglected muscles along the back of your thigh and balance out your quad exercises. If your hamstrings are tight, consider starting with simple stretches like a toe touch. When you’re ready to perform a hamstring curl, simply stand with your feet hip-width apart, touching a wall or chair for stability. Keeping your upper leg in place, raise your heel slowly toward your back, then gradually lower it. Repeat this 10 times, for 3-5 sets.

EXERCISES TO AVOID

Don’t rush the recovery process, especially after an injury. For stretching exercises, be careful not to force the joint beyond your natural range of motion. The key is to focus on gentle, consistent stretching that helps your muscles loosen and lengthen over time. When engaging in strengthening exercises, don’t push yourself with weight or reps, especially if you’re in the early stages of the recovery process. You risk exacerbating the issue, causing more pain, and even re-injuring the knee.

As you expand your physical therapy routine to include additional exercises, remember that most typical knee exercises target the quadriceps and calf muscles, but even the hip flexors and gluteal muscles influence how you walk and stand. If you’re suffering from knee pain, you should stick with exercises that use the knee as a back and forth “hinge.” Before you build up muscle, don’t risk exercises like lunges that can cause your knee to wobble or move laterally. Even squats may put too much pressure on the knee. Although some yoga positions can be good for stretching, avoid poses that require twisting or putting weight on the knees. It’s also best to avoid high-impact cardio activities like running or jumping. — opt for swimming or cycling, which are easier on the joints, instead.

If you’re suffering from knee pain or looking to speed up your recovery process after an injury, schedule an appointment with us at New York Bone & Joint Specialists to develop a personalized treatment plan.

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