Knee Stretches

Do Tight Muscles Cause Knee Problems?

Yes, making knee stretches vital! Tight muscles change how forces go through the knee, making knee pain much more likely. For example, tight quads will affect the position of the knee cap often causing problems such as Chondromalacia Patella and Osgood Schlatters.

Each muscle has an optimum length. Muscles are made of filaments that overlap with each other, like interlocking fingers. If a muscle is tight, the fibres overlap too much and as a result lack flexibility, which limits the amount of movement at the knee.

We will start by looking at how to tell if your muscles are tight and then go on to talk about how to stretch safely. We will also look at how you can get the maximum benefit for the least effort when doing knee stretches.

If you want to jump straight to knee stretches for specific muscles, chose from the following: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Glutes (Buttocks) or Iliotibial Band (ITB) stretches.

How Can I Tell if my Muscles are Tight?

Knee stretches are a great way to reduce knee pain and reduce the risk of injur

The best way to tell if muscle tightness is causing or contributing to your pain is to see a physical therapist who can fully assess you. However there are some simple tests you can try at home that will give you an indication of any tightness.

Are My Hamstrings Tight?

1) Simplest – When standing, try and touch your toes whilst keeping your knee straight. If you can, you probably don’t have tight hamstrings, if you can’t then you probably need Hamstring stretches

2) More specific – Lie on your back and lift your leg up so your hip is bent 90°. Then, keeping your hip still, raise your foot and straighten your knee as much as you can. A woman should be able to get her knee within 20° of fully straight, and a man within 30°. If you can’t get your knee that straight, you most likely have tight hamstrings

Are My Quads Tight?

1) Simplest – lie on your tummy on a firm surface. Bring your heel towards your bottom. If you can touch your bottom with your foot (or nearly can) your quads are probably fine. If you can’t, they are probably tight and would benefit from Quads stretches

2) More specific – Sit on the bottom edge of a bed. Hug your good knee into your chest, leaving your other leg relaxed. Slowly lean backwards until you are lying down on your back (still hugging your good leg). Let your free leg relax and hang down off the bed and see how much the knee bends (without you pushing it). If it bends less than 90° (a right angle), you probably have tight quads

Getting the Best Results

This is a case where it really is "no pain, no gain". Stretching effectively should be moderately uncomfortable (i.e. slightly unpleasant!) when you do it, but only in the muscle being stretched and the pain should stop as soon as you stop stretching.

If you feel nothing or only slight discomfort when stretching, the exercise will likely not be very effective – you need to push it a bit further. However, if you have damaged a muscle e.g. hamstring tear, you should NOT start stretching too early – wait until you can use the muscle without pain before starting knee stretches.

How Much Should I Stretch?

It is really important to stretch safely and effectively with any knee problem.

There has been lots of research into the most effective way to stretch i.e. the minimum effort for the maximum benefit and the conclusion is:

• Hold the stretch for 30 seconds
• Repeat the stretch 3 times
• Do the exercise 1-2 times daily

How Do I Do Knee Stretches?

To find out how to do knee stretches for different muscles, choose from the links below:

1) Quads Stretches: for tight muscles at the front of your thigh
2) Hamstring Stretches: to stretch the muscles on the back of your thigh
3) Calf Stretches: for the muscles on the back of your lower leg
4) Glutes Stretches: to stretch you buttock muscles
5) ITB Stretches: stretch the iliotibial band on the outside of your leg from hip to knee

Stretching exercises have been proven to help decrease knee pain and reduce the chance of injury.

Stretching vs Strengthening

People often make the mistake of starting by stretching their muscles. When there is muscle weakness, the other muscles around the knee try to compensate and provide stability themselves by tightening up to control knee movement.

If you carry out knee stretches without first strengthening the muscles, you can actually cause more knee problems as you are taking away your body’s support structure making the knee less stable and putting more force through it. Therefore, I often advise people to start with knee strengthening exercises and then after a couple of weeks, add in knee stretches.  Ideally, you want to be doing both alongside each other.  So don't delay, start today!

Go to the Knee Exercise Guide

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See Also

Knee Braces: Would they help?

How can I strengthen my leg?

Top tips on exercising

Diagnose Your Pain

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