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The Best Exercises to Combat Knee Pain

February 28, 2020

The knee joint plays a vital role in your everyday life. It supports your body weight when you walk, run, squat, jump and perform a range of other activities. When knees hurt, life can become much more difficult. Fortunately, exercise can actually improve knee pain. Instead of allowing “bad knees” to keep you on the couch, consider some knee therapy instead. 

Staying Active Is Key

Several factors go into knee pain, such as current injuries, past injuries and lifestyle. Although it may seem like the opposite would be true, the worst thing to do if you have chronic knee pain is remain sedentary. Knee health relies on working out and elongating the muscles surrounding the knee joint. Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) also is essential because extra weight can put too much stress on this hard-working joint. 

While there may be days when you need to rest and ice your knees due to the pain, consider working with your physician to get you back on track toward a fitness-filled life.

Approach Knee Pain Through Exercise

Most exercise specialists argue there are three components to knee health: mobilization, stretching and strengthening. Within each category are a wide range of exercises to choose from. Of course, remember to always consult with your physician before getting started!


When thinking about mobilization, focus on your “tight” muscles. You’ll want to apply soft pressure to the muscles in your legs to ensure full function. For instance, the role of the adductors, which are located in the inner thigh, are to pull the legs together and rotate the upper leg inward, stabilizing the hip. This affects strain put on your knees.

Consider this exercise: Lie on your belly and set the leg you want to mobilize on top of a foam roller. Make sure to distribute your body weight evenly. Slowly move back and forth while extending your leg out. You also should be mindful of your breathing to allow your muscles to lengthen while mobilizing. 


You can’t stretch your knee joint, but you can keep the muscles surrounding your knees flexible and elongated. This helps to both prevent and treat knee pain. The role of the calf muscle, for example, is to flex the foot at the ankle joint and to flex the leg at the knee joint. Due to their anatomical function, calves play a large role in knee health. 

Consider this exercise: Begin by standing on a flat surface and lift your toes up while keeping your heels in contact with the ground. Lean forward, if you can, to stretch the calf muscles further. You should feel slight discomfort. Keep this stretched position for 30-45 seconds doing two to three sets per leg. If there is pain, discontinue this exercise and consult with a professional.  


If you’re unable to fully straighten your knee, you’re at risk for increased stress and strain placed on the patellar tendon, which connects to your knee cap. If you can’t extend your knee, you may impact the quadriceps muscles’ ability to generate force. 

Consider this exercise: Start by tying an exercise band to a sturdy object or door. Next, place the band around the back of one knee. Step back until there is a small amount of tension. Slightly bend your knee, then extend it until it’s straight and pause for a moment. Repeat for 12-15 reps doing three sets. You should feel this exercise in the front of your thighs, where your quads are located. 

Add a Daily Fitness Regimen

In addition to these knee-specific exercises, consider creating an overall fitness plan. Unless advised differently by a doctor, try to strength train, do cardio and stretch at least three days a week. This not only helps keep you strong, but will lower your overall weight, which reduces knee strain.

Some ideas to get you started: 

  • If you are able, do a few rounds of squats and lunges. Make sure to maintain good form to prevent injury. 

  • If your knees can tolerate it, walk around your neighborhood, a track or even the local mall. 

  • Use a stationary bike, swim laps or try a water aerobics class. These exercises improve your cardiovascular endurance while going easy on your knees and joints.

Learn More About the Orlando Health National Training Center

The Orlando Health National Training Center, on the campus of Orlando Health South Lake Hospital, provides comprehensive wellness programs, events and training services to support our community and athletes in their achievement for health and performance excellence.

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