Table of Contents
The knee joint is the largest joint in the body and needs to be able to sustain weight loads of up to 10 times your body weight. It’s what’s known as a synovial joint, which means it undertakes a lot of movement with a wide range of motion.
Day to day, your knee joints undertake large amounts of stress, not just from walking and other such daily activities, but also simply supporting your body weight. This makes them susceptible to injuries such as tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and other conditions including bursitis and patellar tendinitis.
Recommended Reading – 6 Critical Causes For Hip Flexor Pain During Squats
This highlights the importance of regularly performing knee mobility exercises. Not only can they help to alleviate knee stiffness and help with injury prevention, but they can also ensure the knee joint remains flexible and mobile which, in turn, leads to a better quality of life.
What Causes Lack Of Knee Mobility?
If you find you have a limited range of motion to your knee joints, there are several potential causes for this. For a proper diagnosis always seek professional medical advice.
The meniscus is cartilage that sits between the femur and the tibia. Its primary function is to disperse pressure in the knee joint and prevent premature wear on the surfaces of the bones. A tear to this cartilage usually happens when twisting of the knee occurs causing the meniscus to become pinched.
Whilst the most likely cause of knee arthritis is age related wear and tear, it can also be down to other factors such as being overweight, or it may even be an hereditary trait.
Knee bursas are small fluid filled sacs which sit between the skin and the knee joint and allow for smooth movement of the knee without friction. When we extend and flex the knee, the bursa allows the knee to move freely underneath the skin. Bursitis is when the bursa becomes inflamed resulting in swelling and pain. Trauma, infection, and certain occupations (such as gardening and carpet fitting) may cause knee bursitis.
Weak Hip Flexors
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the primary causes of weak hip flexors. When the hip flexors adopt a shortened position for long periods of time, for example when sitting at a desk, they too become weak and stiff. This can then have a direct impact on the mobility of the knee.
The anterior cruciate ligament, commonly abbreviated to ACL, is a ligament that connects the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia). It plays a crucial role in knee stability by preventing the tibia from extending too far forward on the femur and provides stability during knee rotation. ACL injuries usually happen during certain sports where sudden stops or changes in direction take place, such as skiing or basketball.
Tendonitis to the patellar tendon results in pain and inflammation and is typically caused by an injury. This is different to tendinopathy which is down to wear and tear of the tendon.
Knee Mobility Exercises
Now that we’ve considered some of the potential causes of reduced knee mobility, let’s look at some of the best knee-strengthening exercises that you can incorporate into your exercise program allowing you to increase range of motion to your knee joints which may help to alleviate discomfort and stiffness.
It’s important to remember, that to strengthen and improve mobility to the knees, means you will have to activate different muscle groups which surround the knees such as the quads, glutes and hamstrings, which all play a part in supporting and aiding the knee throughout its movement.
Short Arc Quad Exercise
How To Perform The Short Arc Quad Exercise:
- Start in a sitting position with your legs extended out in front of you.
- Taking your right leg to begin with, place a small foam roller, or a rolled-up towel, underneath the back of your knee.
- From here, raise your right foot as much as you can to straighten the leg. Ensure you keep your knee resting against the support throughout.
- Squeeze the quad at the top of the movement before lowering your foot back down.
- Repeat for 10 repetitions and then switch sides working the other leg.
You may not get the leg fully straightened if you have a pre-existing knee injury so be sure not to force the joint. If you find this exercise easy to perform 20+ reps, you can wear an ankle weight to add some resistance.
Straight Leg Raises
How To Perform A Straight Leg Raise:
The straight leg raise is a great exercise for activating the quads and hip extensors whilst working the abdominal muscles.
- Start by lying down on an exercise mat with your legs extended out in front of you.
- Keeping your arms down by your sides, bend your left knee and keep your foot flat on the ground.
- Slowly begin to raise your straight leg until both knees meet.
- Pause for 3-5 seconds before lowering back to the start.
- Perform 10 to 20 reps on both sides.
Seated Foot Rotations
This exercise follows a transverse plane of motion and is performed in a seated position and involves internally and externally rotating the foot to stretch the tendons. During this exercise, you’ll very likely get less internal rotation than you will external rotation. You should feel a stretching but no pain.
How To Perform A Seated Foot Rotation:
- Start in a seated position with your knees bent to around 90 degrees.
- Your heels should be positioned directly under your knees.
- Raise the top of your left foot off the ground but keep the heel planted. This is your starting position.
- From here slowly rotate the heel inwards (towards your right leg).
- Make sure you pivot on your heel and don’t twist the ankle. Your ankle joint should remain neutral throughout.
- Hold this position for as long as is comfortable before rotating the foot back to the start position.
- Now rotate the heel outwards and pause for as long as possible.
- Perform several repetitions before switching legs.
The bridge exercise is a very popular movement and typically executed to activate the gluteal muscles, usually with the aim of increasing size and muscle tone.
However, this exercise will also strengthen the glutes and strong glutes not only help to stabilise the hip and thigh joints, but they also decrease the load encountered by the knee joint. A progression of this exercise is the single leg bridge.
How To Perform A Glute Bridge:
- Start by lying down on an exercise mat with your knees bent and arms down by your sides.
- Press your lower back into the mat. This is your start position.
- Engage your core and slowly raise your hips towards the ceiling.
- Stop when your body forms a straight line from your knees to your neck. Don’t be tempted to raise the hips too high as you could overarch your back.
- Pause briefly before returning to the starting position. Repeat for approximately 10 repetitions.
Seated Knee Flexion & Extension
The seated knee flexion and extension sometimes forms part of a physical therapy program and is a great way of strengthening the knee joint and improving range of motion.
How To Perform A Seated Knee Flexion & Extension Exercise:
- Begin in a seated position with your knees bent to a 90-degree angle and your ankles aligned with your knees.
- Keep your feet around hip-width apart.
- Taking one foot slide it backwards as far as possible and hold for 5 seconds. This is knee flexion.
- Slide the foot back to its original position, then extend the leg out straight.
- Flex your toes towards you at the top of the movement for an increased stretch. Hold this position for 5 seconds and then lower the leg back down.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps and then switch legs.
Wall squats, sometimes called wall sits, is an isometric exercise that can help to activate the quads and improve knee strength. This is a very simple body weight exercise that can easily be added into your daily routine. Don’t allow your upper body to drop lower than your knees as this can put unnecessary stress on the joint which may result in injury.
How To Perform A Wall Squat:
- Standing upright with feet hip-width apart, rest your back against a wall.
- From here, walk your feet out a little and slowly squat down.
- If possible, aim to get your upper legs so they are just above parallel to the floor.
- Hold this position for as long as possible.
- Repeat this exercise for 3 repetitions.
Steps ups should be performed in a slow and controlled way. Ensure that your chosen platform, whether it be the stairs, a step-up box or a chair does not mean your knees go beyond a 90 degree angle. If you want to make the exercise a little more challenging, you can add some resistance by holding on to a pair of lightweight dumbbells or even a couple of cans of food.
How To Perform Step Ups:
- Stand upright in front of your raised platform.
- Step up and place your right foot on the platform and ensure its fully supported.
- Keeping your arms down by your sides, push through your left foot and raise up onto the platform.
- Instead of placing your left foot on the platform raise your leg up in front of you until the knee is at around 90 degrees. This should be done in one fluid and controlled motion.
- Pause briefly before lowering your left foot back down to the ground.
- Then proceed to lower the right foot back down to the ground.
- Repeat steps 2 to 6 but starting with the left foot.
Aside from performing the above exercises on a regular basis to improve your knee mobility, you can also look to incorporate some cardiovascular exercise, such as cycling, which will help with strength and flexibility.
Always remember to add in sufficient recovery periods after any exercise to allow your muscles and joints to rest and grow stronger. Before commencing with any new exercise program seek the advice of a qualified trainer and if you suffer from any pain contact a qualified medical professional.