10 Essential Stretches for the Knee

Stretch your knees with these simple moves

Whether you run marathons or simply want to get out of your car without pain, stretching for knee flexibility remains crucial to living a healthy, active life. As one of the strongest and most essential joints in the human body, the knees include tendons, muscles, and ligaments that need to work in harmony to allow you to properly bend and move side to side.

Thus, keeping this main hinge and all its elements in top shape makes the difference between a comfortable life and one in constant pain. Adding a stretch for the knee to your workout routine will help.

Benefits of Knee Stretches

Stretching your knees can help keep this joint and its surrounding muscles healthy, as well as offer the following health benefits:

Helps Treat Osteoarthritis

According to the Arthritis Foundation, knee stretching and strengthening might be the most effective non-drug treatment you can do if you have osteoarthritis. Stretching and regular exercise helps improve circulation, increases bone health, supports your joints, and encourages healthy weight balance. All of these effects can reduce pain and help to treat osteoarthritis.

Reduces Likelihood of Knee Replacement Surgery

If you experience knee pain, stretching the knee can increase joint mobility to reduce the risk of contractures. Contractures are common among patients with osteoarthritis affected joints and accelerate disease progression and increase the likelihood of requiring joint replacement.

Stretching the knee to keep joint range of motion and prevent contractures is wise. Research shows strengthening and stretching knee extensors significantly reduces pain for those with OA.

Improves Quality of Life

Those experiencing chronic knee pain could suffer from a loss of quality of life due to depression and limited social life. Researchers found that exercise interventions produced statistically significant benefits in social functions in those with chronic knee pain and knee osteoarthritis, according to a 2018 study.

When and How to Stretch Your Knees

You should aim to stretch once a day, especially after a workout when your muscles are warm. If you want to complete a knee-stretching workout on its own, you should complete approximately five minutes of moderate cardio to warm up the body and allow you to achieve a better range of motion for each stretch. Each time you perform a knee-stretching workout, aim for a comprehensive routine targeting your calves, hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

Add Strength Training for Best Results

Building strength in your quadriceps, glutes, and knees is vital for injury and pain treatment and prevention. While stretching and mobility work are important, building strength will help protect your knees from further damage. As well, increasing muscle strength is shown to relieve pain, increase joint mobility, alleviate stiffness, reduce risk of falls, and prevent deterioration of the knee.

Try These 10 Knee Stretches

Although these stretches don’t require much effort, they will provide a well-rounded routine. Consult with a medical professional if you have pain. A physical therapist can demonstrate how to best stretch the muscles around the knees and provide any modifications you need for your health conditions. This can help you prevent injury and maintain full functional mobility of the knee.

You should stop the stretch if you feel any pain. You should only feel a deep stretch in each of the following:


Standing Calf Stretch

Standing Calf Stretcg

Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Why: Essential for walking, running and stair climbing; stretching the calf
How often: Three times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Face a wall about two feet away.
  2. Extend your arms to shoulder height and place your hands on the wall.
  3. Step the left leg forward and slightly bend the left knee. Keep your right leg straight.
  4. Move your body into the stretch. You should keep your hands on the wall for balance.
  5. Push down on the right foot as you lean into the stretch. You should feel the stretch in your right leg.
  6. Hold this for 30 seconds.
  7. Switch legs and repeat. If you feel comfortable, you can stand further away from the wall for a deeper stretch when you repeat.

Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Needed for bending forward and stair climbing; stretching the hip flexors
How often: Three times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Kneel on your left knee and keep your right shin on the ground. If you find the ground tough on your back leg, try doing this stretch on a yoga mat.
  2. Move your right leg back behind you. Keep your right foot facing the ceiling.
  3. Put both hands on your right knee and push your body forward.
  4. Keep your torso and head in alignment. You should feel this stretch in your hips and left leg.
  5. Hold this for 20 seconds.
  6. Switch legs and repeat.

Quadriceps Stretch

Standing quad stretch

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Quadriceps control your ability to straighten out your knee. This is needed for walking and running.
How often: Two times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Raise your left arm straight out in front of you. This helps you keep your balance. If you find this too challenging you can modify the exercise by holding onto the back of a chair or wall.
  2. Bend the left knee and grab your left ankle. Bring your left foot back behind you.
  3. Try pulling your leg up and back, with your hand on your ankle.
  4. Keep your torso and head in alignment.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds.
  6. Switch legs and repeat. 

Hamstring Stretch

hamstring stretch for knee

Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

Why: Keeps you from potential knee pain; stretches the hamstrings
How often: Three times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie down on your back.
  2. Extend your right leg in front of you.
  3. Bend your left leg.
  4. Wrap your hands around the back of your left thigh or on top of your knee and pull the leg slowly toward you as far as you’re comfortable.
  5. Hold for 20 seconds.
  6. Switch legs and repeat. 

Wall Hamstring Stretch

Why: Helps with lower back pain; stretches the hamstrings
How often: Three times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie on the floor with your back facing the wall.
  2. Scoot your body so your glutes touch the wall.
  3. Place one leg on the wall and try to extend the leg as much as you can.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Switch legs and repeat. 

Iliotibial Band Stretch

Sidelying IT band stretch

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Helps keep your iliotibial band from rubbing abnormally and causing knee pain
How often: Three to five times per side

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie on your right side.
  2. Keep your bottom knee bent. Reach back and grab your left ankle and bend your knee.
  3. Rest the foot of your bottom leg on your upper knee.
  4. Use the foot on your knee to pull your upper knee to the floor. You should feel a stretch on the side of your knee cap.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds.
  6. Switch sides and repeat.

Side Lunge

 Verywell / Getty Images

Why: To open up your hip adductors to keep your walking ability from getting tight and painful; stretches inner thighs, glutes, hip flexors
How often: Three times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand straight with feet far apart.
  2. Move your feet to a 45 degree angle.
  3. Lunge to one side. You should feel a deep stretch in your thighs.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Switch sides and repeat.

Figure Four Piriformis Stretch

Lying piriformis stretch

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Reduces hip injury; stretches piriformis, glutes, hamstrings
How often: Two times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie down on your back.
  2. Keep your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. If you find this hurts your back, you can do this on a yoga mat or towel.
  3. Place your palms on the floor and move your arms away from the body.
  4. Move the leg ankle onto your right bent thigh.
  5. Lift the right foot off the ground and clasp your hands behind your right bent knee.
  6. Move your legs toward your chest as far as you can. You should feel this stretch in the back of your right leg. As this stretch becomes easier, try straightening out the right leg for a deeper stretch.
  7. Hold for 30 seconds.
  8. Switch sides and repeat.


Butterfly stretch

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Keeps your inner thighs, groin and hips flexible for proper movement; stretches inner thighs, outer thighs, low back
How often: Three times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Sit on the ground and keep your torso and head up high.
  2. Move the soles of your feet together to form a triangle in your legs.
  3. Drop your knees to the sides as far as you can. You can use your arms to push down on your knees for a deeper stretch.
  4. Lean forward, keeping your torso and head aligned as best as you can. You should feel this stretch in your inner thighs.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds.

Straight Leg Stretch

Lying hamstring stretch

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Essential for walking, running and stair climbing; stretches hamstrings, calves
How often: Three times per leg

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie on your back with legs straight.
  2. Bend your left leg and keep your left foot flat on the floor.
  3. Raise your right leg as far as possible. Keep it straight and extended. You should feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
  4. Hold up to 30 seconds. You might not be able to last this long. You can build up to this time.
  5. Lower leg. Switch sides and repeat. 

A Word from Verywell

Adding knee stretches to your workout routine is essential for preventing and treating knee pain. Stretching the supporting areas increases joint mobility which is vital for maintaining functioning and strength. It's also vital to strengthen your quadriceps, glutes, and muscles around the knees. If you have knee pain that does not go away, seek care from a health care provider.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Arthritis Foundation. Benefits of exercise for arthritis

  2. Campbell, T. M., Ghaedi, B. B., Ghogomu, E. T., Westby, M., & Welch, V. A. Effectiveness of stretching and bracing for the treatment of osteoarthritis-associated joint contractures prior to joint replacement: a systematic review protocol. BMJ Open, 2018.9(7). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-028177

  3. Suzuki Y, Iijima H, Tashiro Y, et al. Home exercise therapy to improve muscle strength and joint flexibility effectively treats pre-radiographic knee OA in community-dwelling elderly: a randomized controlled trial. Clin Rheumatol. 2019;38(1):133-141. doi:10.1007/s10067-018-4263-3

  4. Hurley M, Dickson K, Hallett R, et al. Exercise interventions and patient beliefs for people with hip, knee or hip and knee osteoarthritis: a mixed methods review. Cochrane Library. 2018. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010842.pub2

  5. Zeng, C., Zhang, Z., Tang, Z., & Hua, F. (2020). Benefits and mechanisms of exercise training for knee osteoarthritis. Frontiers in Physiology. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.794062

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, CPT
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."