Stretches for the Knee

What are the best ways to stretch the tendons and muscles that surround and support your knees? A physical therapist (PT) can show you.

The knee joint is one of the largest joints in the body. It is comprised of two bones, the femur and tibia, that are connected by four strong ligaments. Your knee also has a small bone in the front of the joint called the patella, or kneecap. This bone helps your quadriceps muscles work more effectively.

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Watch Now: 4 Stretches to Strengthen Your Knees

The knee is a commonly injured joint, with the greatest proportion of injuries in people ages 25 to 44. It is especially susceptible to damage during athletic activities and exercise. However, stretching and strengthening the muscles and tendons of the knee joint may help reduce the risk of injury.

If you are having knee pain, you may benefit from physical therapy to help you manage your condition. Your PT will assess your situation and provide strategies to help you fully recover. Stretching exercises may be one component of your PT knee rehab. Whether or not you have pain or an injury, check in with your doctor or PT before starting these, or any other, stretches for your knee.

Iliotibial Band Stretch

To stretch your IT band, which is on the outside of your knee, start from standing position.

  1. Cross your right leg behind your left.
  2. Lean to the left until you feel a stretch across the outside of your thigh.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat five times, then switch legs.

You can also effectively stretch your iliotibial band while lying on your side. Grasp the ankle of the top leg by bending your knee backwards. You should feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Then, gently rest your bottom ankle on top of your knee, and pull it down towards the floor. This should gently stretch the IT band as it crosses your knee joint. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and then relax.

Quadricep Stretch

Start in a standing position, holding onto a countertop or the back of a chair for balance.

  1. Bend your knee back as far as possible by grasping your ankle with one hand.
  2. Maintain this position for 30 seconds.
  3. Return to standing.
  4. Repeat the exercise five times with each leg.

Hamstring Stretch

Do this stretch from a seated position.

  1. Sit on the floor with both legs out straight.
  2. Extend your arms and reach forward, bending at the waist as far as possible while keeping your knees straight.
  3. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Relax.
  4. Repeat this exercise five more times.

You can also do a standing hamstring stretch. Stand up and place one heel on a low step or curb. Reach your arms forward and up, and slowly bend your trunk forward at your hips. Keep reaching up until you feel a stretch behind your thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and return to the starting position.

Calf Stretch

Using a towel makes this seated stretch more accessible to people with tight leg muscles.

  1. Sit with your feet out in front of you.
  2. Hold one end of a sheet or towel in each hand, forming a loop.
  3. Place the loop around your foot.
  4. Pull your toes toward you.
  5. Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch in your calf muscle.
  6. Hold for 20 seconds, and repeat five more times.
  7. Switch legs and repeat.

Your PT can show you how to use a strap or a towel to perform other stretches for your knees. The strap or towel provides the stretching force in a towel hamstring stretch and towel quad stretch.

A Word From Verywell

Stretching can feel good, and it can keep you moving. It doesn't take much effort to implement a sound stretching program for your knee tendons and muscles. Check in with your PT and learn how to properly stretch the muscles around your thighs and lower legs. This can help keep your knee joints moving freely through their full range of motion to help prevent injury and help you maintain full functional mobility.

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  1. Gage BE, McIlvain NM, Collins CL, Fields SK, Comstock RD. Epidemiology of 6.6 million knee injuries presenting to United States emergency departments from 1999 through 2008. Acad Emerg Med. 2012;19(4):378-85. doi:10.1111/j.1553-2712.2012.01315.x