Stretching exercises for your knees


Expert reviewer, Lucy Rath, Bupa Senior Physiotherapist
Next review due January 2023

As well as performing regular exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knees, stretching is an important part of preventing injury. As you strengthen the muscles that help support your knee, they can also shorten and tighten. Tight muscles are more prone to injury. Stretching will keep your muscles long and flexible.

Below is a series of stretching exercises you can try at the gym or in the comfort of your own home.

As with the strengthening exercises, start slowly. Stretching should always be pain-free – you should feel a ‘tightness’ but not pain. If you’re unsure, ask your physiotherapist for advice.

A man stretching his knee

Glute stretch

Tightness in your glutes can alter the position of your leg. This may create an uneven distribution of forces through your knee resulting in knee pain.

  • Sit on the floor with one leg out straight.
  • Bend your opposite knee and place your foot over your straight leg.
  • Use your hands to gently push the bent knee up towards your opposite shoulder. You should feel the stretch in your buttock.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

Inner thigh stretch

If your glutes are tight, your inner thigh muscles may overwork to compensate. This can create a compressive force on your knee joint resulting in pain in your knee.

  • Stand with legs shoulder width apart and your feet facing forwards.
  • Shift your weight to one side and allow your knee to bend.
  • Keep the other leg straight and push to the side until you feel a stretch on the inside of your thigh.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

Hip flexor stretch

If you sit down a lot, you may have tight hip flexors. Tight hip flexors can cause restricted movement in your upper leg so that when you walk you feel pain in your knee.

  • Kneel on one knee, creating a 90-degree angle with the opposite hip. Use a chair for support if you need.
  • Place a towel under the shin of your back leg if you like.
  • Tuck your pelvis under slightly to flatten your lower back, then slightly transfer your weight forwards to stretch the front of your hip and thigh of the lower leg.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

Hamstring stretch

Your hamstrings are made up of three muscles at the back of your thigh. If you have tight hamstrings, it can cause pressure between your kneecap and thigh bone resulting in pain in your knee.

  • Place one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • With the front leg straight and the back leg slightly bent, lean forwards from your hips.
  • You should feel the stretch in the back of your straight leg.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

Standing quadriceps stretch

Your quadriceps are made up of four muscles at the front of your thigh. If your quadriceps get tight, they can pull your kneecap out of position, causing pain in your knee.

  • Stand on one leg holding onto a wall or back of a chair to balance.
  • With your free hand pull the heel of your other leg towards your bottom until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.
  • Tuck your pelvis under slightly to increase the stretch.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.

Calf stretch – gastrocnemius

Your calf is made up of two muscles. The gastrocnemius starts just above your knee. If your calf muscles are tight, this can cause your lower leg to rotate more than it should when walking or running. The extra rotation can pull your knee cap out of position which may result in knee pain.

  • Place the leg you want to stretch behind you.
  • Lean forwards, using your hands on a wall to balance, and keeping your toes facing forwards.
  • Keep your back and stretching leg straight, and keep your heels on the floor.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.

Calf stretch – soleus

Your calf is made up of two muscles. The soleus starts just below your knee. If your calf muscles are tight, this can cause your lower leg to rotate more than it should when walking or running. The extra rotation can pull your knee cap out of position which may result in knee pain.

  • Stand holding a wall.
  • Place the leg you want to stretch behind you.
  • With your toes facing forwards, lean forwards, bending both knees, until you feel a stretch in your lower calf.
  • Make sure you keep your heels on the floor.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.


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Related information

    • Knee conditioning program. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. orthoinfo.aaos.org, last reviewed October 2018
    • Training programming and prescription: Chapter 10. Bruker & Khan's Clinical Sports Medicine (vol 1. 5th ed, online). csm. mhmedical.com, published 2017
    • Personal communication. Lucy Rath, Senior Physiotherapist, Bupa, 15 January 2020
  • Reviewed by Alice Windsor, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, January 2020
    Expert reviewer, Lucy Rath, Senior Physiotherapist, Bupa
    Next review due January 2023



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