Quadricep Stretches

Written By: Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board

Find out everything you need to know about quadricep stretches

Quadricep stretches are a great way to reduce knee pain, improve flexibility and help to prevent injuries.

The quadriceps, aka quads, are a group of four muscles that run down the front of the thigh and join together forming the patella tendon. They work together to straighten the knee.

Tight quads are a common cause of knee pain as they change the way the forces go through the knee joint and the patella making them more prone to injury.

We will start by looking at how the quads muscles function and common knee problems from tight quads, and then look at the best ways to do quad stretches in a variety of positions so you can find the best ones for you.

Why Should I Do Quad Stretches?

Quadricep stretches often play an important part of knee pain rehab. The four quadricep muscles work together and their primary function is to straighten the knee and control how the kneecap moves.

The quads muscles play a particularly important role in activities such as:

  • Walking and running
  • Getting up from a chair
  • Going up and down stairs
  • Kicking activities
  • Squatting down (and getting back up again)
  • Standing on one leg - they work together to keep you balanced

If the quadriceps get tight, not only can they limit knee flexion, but they can also pull the kneecap out of position slightly, causing friction at the knee. 

So it is really important to have good length in your quads. Alongside this, it often helps to strengthen the muscles as well as stretching them to ensure they are functioning properly, so make sure you check out the quads strengthening exercises too.

How To Do Quadricep Stretches

Here you will find four great quadricep stretches to choose from, each in a different position. You only need to do one or two of them - pick whichever you find works best for you. In order to be most effective you need to:

Hold quad stretches for 30 seconds and repeat them 3 times

Now let's look at some of our favorite quadricep stretches for knee pain.

1. Standing Quadricep Stretch

This standing quadricep stretch is great because you can do it anywhere - at home, in the office or out and about. And you don't need to be able to get on and off the floor. To do standing quad stretches:

Standing quadricep stretch
  • Stand on one foot, holding the back of a chair or the wall to balance. With your free hand, hold the ankle of the stretching leg behind you

  • Pull your heel towards your bottom until you feel a strong quads stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 secs

  • Repeat 3 times, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Top Tip: Keep your upper body up straight – don’t lean forwards or it reduces the stretch through the quads

Progression: To stretch further, carry out this quads stretch as described but also clench the glutes to roll the pelvis back and/or take the knee backwards

2. Side Lying Quadriceps Stretch 

Side lying quadricep stretches give you a little more support so you can really focus on your stretching. And because you are lying down, there is no weight going through the knee making them perfect quad stretches for knee pain. To do this side lying quadriceps stretch:

Quadricep stretch in side-lying. Approved use hep2go.com
  • Lie down on your side with your shoulders, hips and knees in a straight lineYou can choose where you place your bottom arm - wherever feels most comfortable

  • Bring your heel towards your bottom pulling at the ankle until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 secs.

  • Repeat 3 times, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Top Tips: 1. If you can't reach your ankle or have tight quads knee pain, place a band or belt around your foot and pull through that until you can feel a strong stretch in your quads
2. Make sure your knee doesn't come forwards - it should stay in line with your hip throughout

3. Lying Quad Stretches

Doing quad stretches lying on your stomach are really effective for tight quads as your hips and pelvis are anchored which targets the stretch directly at the quads. To do lying quad stretches:

Quadricep stretch performed lying down.  Provides better control and more targetted stretching.  Approved use by www.hep2go.co
  • Lie flat down on your tummy

  • Bring your heel towards your bottom pulling at the ankle until you feel a stretch in the quads on the front of your thigh. If you can't reach your ankle, place a band or belt around your ankle and use that as shown in the picture

  • Hold for 30 secs. Repeat 3 times, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Progression: 1. Prop yourself up on your elbows and carry out the quads stretch as described above
2. Place a pillow/rolled up towel under your knee and carryout the exercise as described above. Can combine with progression 1 to stretch the quads further

4. Kneeling Quadriceps Stretch

Some people prefer to do kneeling quad stretches, particularly if they find it difficult to get up and down from the lying on the floor or to balance standing on one leg. To do kneeling quadricep stretches:

Kneeling quadriceps stretch. Approved use hep2go.com
  • Start in a half kneeling lunge position, knee to be stretched on the floor (resting on a towel or pillow for comfort)

  • Draw your foot towards your bottom, either with one hand or using a towel/strap until you feel the quads stretch down the front of your thigh.  Hold for 30 seconds

  • Repeat 3 times, 2x daily or before and after exercising

Progression: Increase the stretch by clenching your glutes to roll your pelvis back, and/or lunge forwards more onto the front leg

Common Problems From Tight Quads

Tight quads are a common cause of knee pain. People with tight quads are more prone to:

  1. Patellofemoral Knee Pain
  2. Tendonitis: either just above the kneecap - quadriceps tendonitis, or just below the kneecap - patellar tendonitis
  3. Quad Strains
  4. Knee Bursitis
  5. Osgood Schlatters: the most common cause of knee pain in teenagers

Tight quads knee pain may be felt in the front of the thigh or result in front knee pain.

What Else Can Help?

Quadriceps stretches should ideally be done twice a day if you are looking to increase muscle length, and always before and after sport.

If you haven't already read the introduction to knee stretches page, have a look for information on how to tell if your quads are tight, and how to get the best results from these quadricep stretches - maximum benefit for minimum effort!

Quad stretches for knee pain are often most effective when combined with:

And don't forget, it's really important to make sure you have good strength as well as length in your quadriceps. If you are wanting to build up the strength of your quadriceps muscles, go to the quadriceps strengthening exercises section.

Page Last Updated: 12/08/21
Next Review Due: 12/08/23

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