A well-rounded workout plan includes more than just the main course: warm-ups, cool-downs, “pre-hab,” and recovery are vital too. And knee stretches are a simple component that many people tend to skip, even if they have knee pain.
Stretches for knee pain can be important to include in your fitness routine. That’s because it’s actually pretty common for knee pain to happen due to weakness in your hips, glutes, and lower extremities.
Knee pain often occurs (or becomes worse) because of weakness or tightness in the muscles and tendons that connect to the knees—specifically, the hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quads, Dan Giordano, DPT, CSCS, cofounder of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy, tells SELF. Since they’re all connected and work together, when one is compromised, it affects the others. Think of the muscles from your hips to your toes as the parts of a long assembly line, all working together to help support your joints as you move.
Of course, knee pain can happen because of injury too. For example, runners tend to develop patellofemoral pain syndrome (known as runner’s knee), which causes a dull, achy pain in the kneecap when running uphill or going downstairs, as SELF previously reported. If you experience this kind of knee pain, or any knee pain that’s sharp, gets progressively worse, or comes with swelling or any kind of pop, you should see your doctor or physical therapist.
Building strength in the areas that support the knee joint is important, since those muscles can help reduce stress to the knee as well as reduce shock to the joint. Strength moves—especially single-leg work—can help you focus on building strength in one hip at a time, which can help guard against strength imbalances, as SELF previously reported. Try exercises like the banded clamshell and banded monster walks. (This glute workout, for instance, includes extra emphasis on the often-neglected hip abductor muscles, which include the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.)
But it’s not all about building strength: Improving your flexibility in that area can be helpful too, which is why knee stretches are important to include in your fitness routine as well. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, stretching those areas you strengthen helps improve your range of motion and can prevent injury.
“The majority of the muscles that connect at the knee start at the hip,” Giordano explains. “So you need to keep the hips loose and strong first.”
The following stretches target the hips and those other important muscles that are involved in supporting your knees. No matter your workout routine of choice, these stretches will help keep the muscles limber, loose, and ready to do their job—which will better protect your knees from taking on too much impact and becoming strained.
If you tend to experience knee pain or discomfort due to tightness, Giordano suggests doing the following stretches every day, plus after every time you work out. Hold each for 30 seconds to a minute, depending on how tight you are.
Demoing the moves below are Jessica Rihal (photos 1, 2, 3, and 7), a plus-sized yoga instructor (200-HR) and a strong advocate of fitness/wellness for all bodies, and Stefanie Steel (photos 4 and 5), a fitness instructor.