Physical Therapy Leg Stretches

Image of the hip rotation stretch.
The hip rotation stretch helps to keep your hips rotating and moving freely. Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Many people suffer from symptoms of tight leg muscles. Leg tightness is related to the amount of time we spend sitting during the workday. As our knees are bent in this position, the muscles that flex the knee joint become used to being in this shortened position.

Tight leg muscles can predispose one to injury during daily and recreational activities as well as contribute to the development of back pain. To prevent this, it is important to perform leg stretching exercises to increase muscle flexibility.

Performing leg stretches is one activity that should be incorporated into your daily routine. The benefits of stretching are many and have been proven through various studies over time. Review the following leg stretches below then add them to your daily stretching regimen:

  • Groin Stretches: Gentle stretching of the inner muscles of the thigh can help reduce the risk of groin strains. Groin strains occur when the muscles of the inner thighs are stretched beyond their normal length. This results in tears within the muscle that cause pain and inflammation.
  • Quadriceps Stretches: The quadriceps are four muscles located in the anterior thigh. This muscle group acts to flex the hip while straightening the knee. Running and biking, as well as daily activities, can result in tight quadriceps muscles.
  • Knee Stretches: The knee is the most commonly injured joint in all age groups. It is especially susceptible to overuse or traumatic injuries during athletic activities and exercise. However, stretching and strengthening the muscles and tendons of the knee joint can help reduce injury.
  • Calf Stretches: When calf muscles become tight, the risk of muscle or Achilles tendon tears and injury increases. For this reason, it is important to stretch tight calf muscles.
  • Easy Stretches with a Towel: You can do quite a few exercises with items you find around the house. Performing stretches with a towel (such as a towel calf stretch) can help you improve your flexibility and keep your muscles feeling great.

Hold each position for 20 to 30 seconds to maximize your flexibility. Some experts recommend holding stretches for up to 60 seconds.

When and How to Stretch

Recent research indicates that you should perform static stretching like the above exercises after a bout of exercise if the goal is to increase flexibility. Performing static stretches like these before an athletic event has actually been shown to decrease performance. So if you want to stretch before working out, it's best to perform dynamic plyometric stretches.

Maintaining adequate flexibility in your lower extremity muscles can help you move better and feel better. Check with your physical therapist to learn which stretching exercises are best for you.

1 Source
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  1. Konrad A, Stafilidis S, Tilp M. Effects of acute static, ballistic, and PNF stretching exercise on the muscle and tendon tissue properties. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2017;27(10):1070-1080. doi:10.1111/sms.12725.

Additional Reading

By Laura Inverarity, PT, DO
Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.