6 Stretches for Knee Pain: Why Tight Quads Are the Real Culprit (2022)

6 Stretches for Knee Pain: Why Tight Quads Are the Real Culprit (1)

If you suffer from chronic knee pain, the real problem may not be your knee.

While many athletes and physical therapists like to blame chronic pain on the knee itself, science points to other root causes. Unless you suffered a traumatic knee injury (like an ACL or meniscus tear or chronic osteoarthritis), knee pain is often caused by tight muscles surrounding the knee jointparticularly the quadriceps. However, knee pain can also be caused by tight hamstrings, glutes, hip muscles, and even calves.

Below, I explain the root cause of knee pain, and why stretching the muscles surrounding your knee can help relieve it.

Why You Need To Stretch Your Quads, Hamstrings, and Hips To Relieve Knee Pain

To treat knee pain, you need to address the root cause of that pain.

Here's how it works: Every muscle, joint, and bone in your body works together. If one piece of the human body puzzle becomes damaged or compromised, it forces the other surrounding pieces to pick up the slack. When a piece (i.e., a muscle or joint) is forced to double-up on its workload, it often becomes injured.

(Video) Managing Your Knee Pain - Strengthen for Recovery

Still with me? Great — now let's refer back to your knee joint.

Knee pain is often caused by tight quads — particularly pain near the sides and front of the knee. Your lower body muscles are all intertwined. For example, your quadricep is made up of four muscles that connect near your knee and are responsible for stabilizing your patella (i.e., your kneecap). When your quad muscles get too tight, or you perform certain exercises without proper form (like backsquats), it can throw off the alignment of your patella. This problem is exacerbated by exercise. When you run, jump, or otherwise pound on your misaligned and, therefore, unstable kneecap, you push against a weakened foundation, causing injury.

That is what causes knee pain. And therefore, to treat knee pain, you need to shift your focus away from your knee and onto the root problem: The tight, seemingly unrelated muscle groups that started this entire domino effect.

6 Stretches for Knee Pain

6 Stretches for Knee Pain: Why Tight Quads Are the Real Culprit (2)

Now that you understand how knee pain happens, it's time to loosen up the sore muscles that cause pain in the first place.

But first, please note that this post is meant for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If you suffer from chronic knee pain, book a one-on-one consultation with a CPT (certified physical therapist). Only a healthcare professional can pinpoint the root cause of a chronic injury.

(Video) How runners can avoid knee pain

1. Quad Stretch

To stretch your quadriceps, begin from a standing position, with your feet hip width apart. Shift your weight onto your left foot, allowing your right foot to come off the ground. Bring your right foot behind you, bending your knee so your right heel almost touches your butt.

To get the most out of this stretch, squeeze your glute and core muscles (this will also help with balance and stability). Use your right hand to hold your right heel near your butt, trying to deepen the stretch. Hold for 15-20 seconds, then switch legs.

2. Hamstring Stretch

To stretch your hamstrings, lay flat on your back, with your lower back pressed into the floor (think about tilting your pelvis in). Extend both legs straight out in front of you.

Raise your left leg so it's perpendicular to the ground. Use both hands to grab hold of the back of your leg, holding onto your calf muscle or hamstring (do not hold the ligaments behind your knee) to deepen the stretch. Try to keep your right leg pressed into the ground (if you are incredibly tight, bend your right knee so your right foot comes into contact with the ground). Hold for 15-20 seconds, then switch legs.

3. Runner's Lunge

A runner's lunge stretches both your quads and your hip flexors. To set up your stance, come into a seated lunge position. Your right knee should be bent, with your right quad parallel to the ground and your right foot flat on the ground in front of you. Your left leg should extend behind you, with your left knee and the top of your left foot connected with the ground.

Now, deepen the stretch by shifting your weight forward so you feel a deep stretch in your left glute and hip flexor. If you have the balance and flexibility, you can raise your left knee off the ground. Want to deepen the stretch even further? Lower your upper body so your forearms rest on the ground, inside your right foot. You should feel a stretch in your left hip and inner thigh.

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4. Side Lunge Stretch

To relieve knee pain, you'll need to stretch all sides of your quads — the front, inside (inner thigh), and outside (around your IT band). Performing a side lunge stretch helps you stretch your inner thigh muscles.

Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart. Now, step your left leg outward — as far as your range of motion allows. Bend your left knee, sending your left glute backward to the wall behind you (this prevents your left knee from extending beyond your left foot, which can make your injury worse). Shift your weight into your left glute, keeping your right leg straight as you do so. If you have the flexibility, allow your right toes to come off the ground, so only your right heel is connected with the floor. Continue to deepen the stretch, feeling a pull in the inner thigh of your straight leg. Return to your starting position and switch legs.

5. Figure Four Stretch

A figure four stretch stretches the outer thigh (IT band), hamstrings, and glutes. To begin this stretching exercise, lay with your back straight against the floor and your left knee bent. Cross your right shin over your left thigh, so your right foot hovers near your left knee.

If you are incredibly tight, you will already feel a stretch from this position. If you want to deepen the stretch, use both hands to grab hold of your left hamstring. Pull your left knee toward your chest, feeling a deep stretch in your glute and hip flexor. Perform one rep for 15-20 seconds, then switch legs.

6. Calf Stretch

Tight calves can cause pain in the back of the knee. Therefore, it's important to keep your calves loose.

To perform a calf stretch, face a wall. Place both palms firmly on the wall, keeping both arms straight (you may need to back up if you can't straighten your arms). Bring your right foot halfway between the wall and your left foot, and bend your right knee (keeping your left leg straight). Your weight should be shifted to your left foot.

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Push against the wall, trying to get your left foot to make a 45-degree angle with the wall. You should feel a nice stretch in your left calf muscle and Achilles tendon. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds, then switch legs.

Perform These Knee Stretches To Help Relieve Knee Pain

6 Stretches for Knee Pain: Why Tight Quads Are the Real Culprit (3)

As you just discovered, a "knee stretch" may not stretch your knee at all. Instead, stretches for knee pain help loosen the muscles surrounding your knee joint — such as your quads, hamstrings, and inner thigh muscles.

As your knee hurts, remember this: Doing one thing will rarely, if ever, cure an injury. To truly rid yourself of knee pain, you will need to take a well-rounded approach to wellness. Strengthening your quads, performing glute activation, and doing a proper warm up will take pressure off the knee, and improve the stabilization of the joint.

In addition, switching to low-impact activities (particularly for cardio workouts), will help your knee joint prevent overuse, giving your knee time to heal. Lastly, revise your recovery routine, foam rolling your quads, hamstrings, and IT bands to relieve knee pain.

To develop a well-rounded fitness routine that helps you prevent future injury, consider signing up for the Premium plan for the Build Bullet-Proof Health program. You'll get detailed strength, cardio, recovery, and nutrition plans, plus monthly check-ins with me to discuss your progress.

(Video) How To Stretch With Knee Pain? Yoga Physio Program

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FAQs

Can knee pain be caused by tight quads? ›

Common Problems From Tight Quads

Tight quads are a common cause of knee pain. People with tight quads are more prone to: Patellofemoral Knee Pain. Tendonitis: either just above the kneecap - quadriceps tendonitis, or just below the kneecap - patellar tendonitis.

Does stretching your quads help with knee pain? ›

To help relieve knee pain caused by tendonitis, focus on gently stretching and strengthening your hamstring and quadriceps muscles.

How does a tight quad affect the knee? ›

Tight quads will pull on the knee cap, causing it to shift slightly. This exposes it to greater forces and friction often causing problems such as Chondromalacia Patella. Each muscle has an optimum length. Muscles are made of filaments that overlap with each other, like interlocking fingers.

What causes extremely tight quads? ›

What Causes Tight Quadriceps? Standing or sitting for long periods can cause tightness in the front of the upper leg. This can be an issue if you do a lot of desk work or spend long periods behind the wheel. On a side note: Sitting a lot can also lead to tight hip flexors.

What Tight muscles can cause knee pain? ›

The most common muscles to become tight and cause anterior knee pain are your hamstring muscles (at the back of your thigh) and your quadriceps muscles (at the front of your thigh). Occasionally as you grow, your bones grow at a quicker rate than your muscles and they begin to become tight.

How do you stretch your quads without hurting your knees? ›

How to Stretch Quadriceps Without Bending Knees : Stretching Exercises

Can tight leg muscles cause knee pain? ›

In addition, knee pain is sometimes caused or aggravated by tight muscles around the knee, a problem that is often successfully addressed by stretching. If the muscles aren't flexible, the knee joint sometimes won't move properly, says Dr. Elson.

Can tight quads cause knee swelling? ›

A Patient's Guide to Quadriceps Tendonitis of the Knee. Alignment or overuse problems of the knee structures can lead to strain, irritation, and/or injury of the quadriceps muscle and tendon. This produces pain, weakness, and swelling of the knee joint.

How do you stretch your quads above your knee? ›

Safe Quad Stretching & Knee Pain - YouTube

How do you know if your quads are tight? ›

Ideally, your left knee should flex at an angle of about 90 degrees. If it straightens more than that, it means there's tightness in the quadriceps.

Why do I keep getting knots in my quads? ›

Dehydration, unhealthy eating habits, and stress and anxiety may also contribute to muscle knots. Muscle knots can occur anywhere in the body, but they're usually found in your back, shoulders, and neck. They often show up in your gluteal muscles, too.

How do you loosen tight leg muscles? ›

Do stretches when the muscles are warm, not cold. You can warm your muscles up by doing 5 to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity (walking, jogging, using an exercise machine) or even taking a hot shower or bath. It's also a good idea to do some stretching after you've completed your cardio exercise.

How do seniors stretch their quads? ›

Easy Quadriceps Stretches For Seniors | More Life Health - YouTube

Why are my leg muscles so tight? ›

Overtraining or overuse.

Tight muscle in the legs can also occur due to overtraining. When you work your quads, hamstrings, or any other muscle in the leg, the muscle fibers contract. Work them too hard and they may not release. This leads to muscle stiffness and pain.

Can tight quads cause tight hip flexors? ›

Both those who are too sedentary or overly active are vulnerable to tight quadriceps, which create imbalanced muscle tension at the hips. If left unaddressed, too-tight quadriceps can effect posture and body mechanics, leading to back pain and increasing your risk of hip and knee injuries.

What is a good quad stretch? ›

Your quadriceps muscle runs along the front of your thigh. To stretch your quadriceps muscles: Stand near a wall or a piece of sturdy exercise equipment for support. Grasp your ankle and gently pull your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.

How do I loosen the tendons in my knees? ›

Kneeling hip flexor stretch
  1. Kneel on one knee, with your other leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Lean forward, bending your front knee slightly until a stretch is felt from the hip to the knee on the knee-down leg.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. Do two sets.
4 Nov 2021

Can weak thigh muscles cause knee pain? ›

Weak thigh muscles are a common cause of runner's knee, a treatable cause of anterior knee pain. Weak thigh muscles allow the kneecap to move sideways and rub abnormally against the thighbone.

What exercises should I avoid with knee pain? ›

High-impact exercises can further injure painful knees. Avoid jarring exercises such as running, jumping, and kickboxing. Also avoid doing exercises such as lunges and deep squats that put a lot of stress on your knees. These can worsen pain and, if not done correctly, cause injury.

What is the fastest way to relieve knee pain? ›

Self-care measures for an injured knee include:
  1. Rest. Take a break from your normal activities to reduce repetitive strain on your knee, give the injury time to heal and help prevent further damage. ...
  2. Ice. Ice reduces both pain and inflammation. ...
  3. Heat. ...
  4. Compression. ...
  5. Elevation.
11 May 2021

Which exercise is best for knee pain? ›

  1. Straight Leg Raises. If your knee's not at its best, start with a simple strengthening exercise for your quadriceps, the muscles in the front of the thigh. ...
  2. Hamstring Curls. These are the muscles along the back of your thigh. ...
  3. Prone Straight Leg Raises. ...
  4. Wall Squats. ...
  5. Calf Raises. ...
  6. Step-Ups. ...
  7. Side Leg Raises. ...
  8. Leg Presses.
1 Dec 2020

Can tight quads cause patellar tendonitis? ›

Tight thigh muscles (quadriceps) and hamstrings, which run up the back of your thighs, can increase strain on your patellar tendon. Muscular imbalance. If some muscles in your legs are much stronger than others, the stronger muscles could pull harder on your patellar tendon. This uneven pull could cause tendinitis.

Why does my knee hurt when I stretch my leg? ›

The back of the knee may hurt when a person straightens their leg because of a variety of issues, including blood clots, muscle or tendon injuries, arthritis, or cysts. Physical therapy, rest, and pain medications are common treatments for many of these causes, but sometimes a person will need surgery treat the issue.

What muscle lifts your knee? ›

The iliopsoas muscles are the primary hip flexors, pulling the knee up off the ground when it contracts. Because the psoas muscle is also connected to the spine, it contributes to upright posture, assists in lumbar spine movement, and influences the spine's curve.

How do you get rid of quadriceps tendonitis? ›

Treatment for quadriceps tendinitis involves resting and icing the joint, avoiding activities that cause pain, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines as needed. Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy exercises to stretch and strengthen the legs.

Why is the standing quadriceps stretch a better? ›

Why is the standing quadriceps stretch a better stretching exercise than the sitting quadriceps stretch? A. It stretches the quadriceps muscle further.

How often should I stretch my quads? ›

If you sit a lot or have quad tightness for any other reason, aim to perform the stretch at least once a day on each leg. When you are getting started, don't worry if you struggle with performing the stretch for the full five minutes.

How do you stretch your quads while sitting? ›

Seated quad stretch - YouTube

How do you release trigger points in quads? ›

Trigger points in the quadriceps are basically knots in quad muscles that cause aches and pain there and elsewhere.
  1. They're usually easily treatable with effective targeted massage and isolated or active isolated stretches. ...
  2. A single-leg stretch, a great stretch for runners, can really hone in on this trigger point.

Is massage good for tight quads? ›

Tight quads can be the reason for many knee and hip complaints so regular massage in this area is key. The quads are the largest and strongest muscle group in the body – and although they are often one of the first areas on the body a massage student it taught about, this is an area that is often overlooked.

What does it feel like when a trigger point is released? ›

Trigger points are tender to the touch and can refer pain to distant parts of the body. Patients may have regional, persistent pain resulting in a decreased range of motion in the affected muscles. 1 Massage, spray and stretch, and injections are a few techniques to decrease trigger point pain.

Why are my leg muscles so tight even after stretching? ›

There's an underlying weakness

“If you always feel tight in a muscle even after stretching it, it is most likely weak and not tight,” she says. “These muscles will sometimes seize up and guard so they feel tight, when really they are chronically weak and not strong enough to meet the demands you're placing on them.”

Why are my tendons so tight in my legs? ›

Repetitive Use and Tendonitis

Repetitive use or overuse occurs when you perform the same activities day after day. When you do the same movement repeatedly, it can cause stress to your joints and the surrounding tissues, resulting in tight, short tendons.

Why are my legs aching below the knee? ›

Most leg pain results from wear and tear, overuse, or injuries in joints or bones or in muscles, ligaments, tendons or other soft tissues. Some types of leg pain can be traced to problems in your lower spine. Leg pain can also be caused by blood clots, varicose veins or poor circulation.

What type of stretching should be avoided for older adults? ›

Static stretching also limits your jumping ability, his study shows. While taut, un-stretched hip and upper-leg muscles help your legs snap back when you stride or leap, stretched muscles lack the same springiness—and so can leave you feeling tired earlier during a long run, his research suggests.

How do I loosen my hip flexors and quads? ›

How to Stretch Your Quads and Hip Flexors -Physio Approved - YouTube

Can quad cause knee pain? ›

Alignment or overuse problems of the knee structures can lead to strain, irritation, and/or injury of the quadriceps muscle and tendon.

How do you stretch the quads around your knee? ›

Safe Quad Stretching & Knee Pain - YouTube

Can tight quads cause patellar tendonitis? ›

Tight thigh muscles (quadriceps) and hamstrings, which run up the back of your thighs, can increase strain on your patellar tendon. Muscular imbalance. If some muscles in your legs are much stronger than others, the stronger muscles could pull harder on your patellar tendon. This uneven pull could cause tendinitis.

How do you relieve tightness in knees? ›

Stiff Knee Treatment Options

Rest your knee. Regularly apply an ice pack to the knee. Use over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Stabilize your knee and reduce the risk of further injury with a knee brace.

How do you tell if you have tight quads? ›

Ideally, your left knee should flex at an angle of about 90 degrees. If it straightens more than that, it means there's tightness in the quadriceps.

Can tight leg muscles cause knee pain? ›

In addition, knee pain is sometimes caused or aggravated by tight muscles around the knee, a problem that is often successfully addressed by stretching. If the muscles aren't flexible, the knee joint sometimes won't move properly, says Dr. Elson.

What can weak quads cause? ›

Having weak quads not only can diminish your knee's function, but research shows it also may put you at risk for knee cartilage loss, the hallmark trait of knee osteoarthritis. “The quadriceps are the primary muscles that help support the knees.

What exercises should I avoid with knee pain? ›

High-impact exercises can further injure painful knees. Avoid jarring exercises such as running, jumping, and kickboxing. Also avoid doing exercises such as lunges and deep squats that put a lot of stress on your knees. These can worsen pain and, if not done correctly, cause injury.

Can tight quads cause knee popping? ›

Understanding Your Creaky Knees

Your quadriceps are comprised of four muscles that merge at the kneecap. When one of these muscles is too weak or too tight, the entire alignment can be thrown off, which can destabilize your kneecap and cause damage to your knee. Crepitus can be painful, but it isn't always.

How do you get rid of quadriceps tendonitis? ›

Treatment for quadriceps tendinitis involves resting and icing the joint, avoiding activities that cause pain, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines as needed. Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy exercises to stretch and strengthen the legs.

Can weak thigh muscles cause knee pain? ›

Weak thigh muscles are a common cause of runner's knee, a treatable cause of anterior knee pain. Weak thigh muscles allow the kneecap to move sideways and rub abnormally against the thighbone.

Will a knee brace help quadricep tendonitis? ›

Most braces for knee tendonitis problems are made of soft fabric, such as cloth or neoprene. These braces work by encouraging proper alignment of the patella in the femoral groove and/or by distributing the force on the quadriceps tendon which is, in turn, improves the functioning of the quadriceps mechanism.

Should I stretch my knee if it hurts? ›

Your knee joints help you do daily activities like walking, squatting, and standing still. But if your knees are painful or tight, these movements might feel uncomfortable. Doing knee stretches can provide relief. These stretches loosen the muscles around your knee, which reduces pressure on the joint.

What vitamins should I take for aching joints? ›

Several nutritional supplements have shown promise for relieving pain, stiffness and other arthritis symptoms. Glucosamine and chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, SAM-e and curcumin are just some of the natural products researchers have studied for osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Which exercise is best for knee pain? ›

  1. Straight Leg Raises. If your knee's not at its best, start with a simple strengthening exercise for your quadriceps, the muscles in the front of the thigh. ...
  2. Hamstring Curls. These are the muscles along the back of your thigh. ...
  3. Prone Straight Leg Raises. ...
  4. Wall Squats. ...
  5. Calf Raises. ...
  6. Step-Ups. ...
  7. Side Leg Raises. ...
  8. Leg Presses.
1 Dec 2020

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