Knee Stretches for Flexibility

Keep Your Knees Flexible to Minimize Pain and Improve Fitness

Whether you run marathons or simply want to get out of your car without pain, working on 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 involve a symmetry of tendons, muscles, and ligaments working 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. Stretching your knees can help keep this joint and its surrounding muscles strong, as well as offer the following health benefits:

  • According to the Arthritis Foundation, knee stretching and strengthening might be the most effective non-drug treatment you can do if you have osteoarthritis.
  • If you experience knee pain, strengthening the quadriceps and increasing flexibility can be more effective than routine use of knee braces or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, according to a study published in American Family Physician.
  • 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.

How Often You Should Stretch

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 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.

Research shows a wide-ranging routine will keep you following through with the exercises. A 2019 study from Clinical Rheumatology found that home exercise therapy compliance rates measured near or at 100% when exercise programs involved both muscle strength and joint flexibility rather than knee extension power only.

10 Knee Stretches

These 10 knee stretches will provide a well-rounded routine. Although these stretches don’t require much effort, you should consult with a medical professional if you have osteoarthritis. 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:

1

Standing Calf Stretch

Standing Calf Stretcg

Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Why: Essential for walking, running and stair climbing
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 right leg forward and slightly bend the right knee. Keep your left leg straight. Move your body into the stretch. You should keep your hands on the wall for balance.
4. Push down on the left foot as you lean into the stretch. You should feel the stretch in your left leg.
5. Hold this for 30 seconds.
6. Switch legs and repeat. If you feel comfortable, you can stand further away from the wall for a deeper stretch when you repeat.

2

Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Needed for bending forward and stair climbing
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. Keep your torso and head in alignment.
4. You should feel this stretch in your hips and left leg. Hold this for 20 seconds.
5. Switch legs and repeat.

3

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 chair or wall.
2. Bend the right knee and grab your right ankle. Bring your right foot back behind you.
3. With your hand on your ankle, try pulling your leg up and back.
4. Keep your torso and head in alignment.
5. Hold for 30 seconds.
6. Switch legs and repeat. 

4

Hamstring Stretch

Why: Keeps you from potential knee pain
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. Wrap your hands around the back of your left thigh and pull the leg slowly toward you as far as you’re comfortable.
4. Hold for 20 seconds.
5. Switch legs and repeat. 

5

Wall Hamstring Stretch

Why: Helps with lower back pain
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. 

6

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. 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.
4. Hold for 30 seconds.
5. Switch sides and repeat.

7

Side Lunge

Side lunge

 Verywell / Getty Images

Why: To open up your hip adductors to keep your walking ability from getting tight and painful
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.

8

Figure Four Piriformis Stretch

Lying piriformis stretch

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Reduces hip injury
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.

9

Butterfly

Butterfly stretch

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Keeps your inner thighs, groin and hips flexible for proper movement
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.

10

Straight Leg Stretch

Lying hamstring stretch

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Why: Essential for walking, running and stair climbing
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

You don't need to make much effort to implement a sound stretching program for your knee tendons and muscles.

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Article Sources

  • Arthritis Foundation: Benefits of Exercise for Arthritis. 

  • Dixit S and Difiori JP. Management of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. Amer Fam Phy. 2007. January;75(2):194-202. 

  • 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

  • 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. 2019. 38(1):133-141. doi: 10.1007/s10067-018-4263-3