The 6 Best Exercises to Help Relieve Knee Pain

6 Best Exercises To Help Relieve Knee Pain

It may seem counter-intuitive to consider exercising when you’re experiencing knee pain, but according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, it might be exactly what the doctor orders. How does using the muscles above, below, and around the knee help provide relief? The mechanism of the knee itself is a hinge, made of bones, cartilage, ligaments and other soft tissues, but it’s the muscles that surround it that either support or strain. Targeted exercises can improve both strength and flexibility, which are great ways to keep knees healthy, improve stability, and prevent further damage. What are the best low-impact exercises to relieve knee pain?

Reclined Hamstring Curls

Warming up your muscles and joints with simple movements can make more challenging exercises more comfortable and less straining. A reclined hamstring curl uses the muscles at the front and back of the thighs, and non-impact movement of the knee joint improves lubrication. Rest on your back with knees bent and thighs vertical. Extend the knees to press the soles of the feet up toward the ceiling, then keep feet flexed as you bend at the knees and firmly pull heels toward your seat. Repeat.

Tip: Draw thighs together and keep feet flexed to engage the most muscle in the legs.

Dynamic Bridge

“Bridge” pose is great for strengthening the back of the legs, hips, and seat, and for stretching the muscles on the front of the thighs. Rest on your back with knees bent and ankles stacked below. Rest arms at your sides with palms down; movement here involves strengthening through the back side of the body to lift and lower the seat.

Tip: Move slowly with your breath, and squeeze a foam block or rolled towel between the knees. Tight hip and thigh muscles can cause the knees to pull apart when lifting, making this quad-stretching exercise less efficient.

Straight Leg Raise

Strong thigh muscles are essential for supporting a sensitive knee joint, and straight leg raises are a great way to build them. Rest on your back with one knee bent and the other leg extended. Gently flatten through the lower back to engage the core muscles, then push through the extended heel, flexing toes toward the knee to strengthen leg muscles. Slowly lift the extended leg up about 6 inches off the floor, then lower, and relax the muscles. Repeat multiple times on each side.

Tip: Re-engage the core and leg muscles before each lift to train the body to prepare for safe, supported movement.

One Leg Stand

One challenge of knee pain and injury is the feeling of compromised stability, and balancing exercises are a great way to develop body awareness through proprioception, which reduces your risk of a fall and helps you move more confidently. Stand near a table or chairback for support, with feet stacked under your hips. Shift your weight to one leg, and practice balancing on one foot for 30 seconds, then change sides.

Tip: Keep the standing hip muscles engaged by standing tall, and pay attention to the micro-movements you notice in the ankles and knees.

Supported Squats

An important exercise for building every muscle that supports the knee uses isometric contraction to hold them in a bent position. Stand with your back and seat against a wall, with feet hip distance apart and heels 12-16 inches from the wall. Slide your back down the wall until knees are comfortably bent, and hold the position for a number of breaths. Progressively deepen the bend and lengthen the hold as you build strength in the muscles of the thighs.

Tip: Squeeze a foam block or rolled towel between the knees to engage the inner thigh muscles.


Strong muscles around the hips and seat are essential for maintaining good posture; when muscles are weak, others compensate by tightening or overdeveloping, and these imbalances can pull on the structures of the knee. To try the clamshell, rest on your side with back, seat, and heels against a wall, knees stacked and bent. Using your top hand to stabilize the torso, squeeze the muscles across the seat and sacrum to “open” the top leg, release and repeat.

Tip: Lift and lower slowly to maximize strengthening in muscles like the glutes and piriformis.

Living with Knee Pain In Chicago?

Whether you’re experiencing acute knee pain or it’s become a constant, chronic condition, it’s a debilitating experience that impacts every facet of your life. If pain is keeping you from the active lifestyle needed to stay healthy, an integrated, innovative approach for relief is just a call away at Midwest Anesthesia and Pain Specialists. Make your appointment to learn more today!