Written By: Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board
Quadriceps exercises for knee pain can make a massive difference with loads of different knee problems.
The quadriceps are a group of four muscles found on the front of the thigh.
When there is weakness and/or tightness in the quadriceps muscles, it places more strain on the knee and patella, and more force through the knee joint.
This can result in a whole range of knee problems such as Runners Knee, Patellar Tendonitis and Knee Bursitis.
Here we look at a whole range of quadriceps exercises for knee pain, each grouped into sets:
Each set starts at beginners level and gets progressively more challenging.
These setting exercises are brilliant quadriceps exercises for knee pain for those just starting out or in the early stages following knee surgery. The first three are done lying down, the fourth, sat in a chair.
If you have recently had an injury or knee surgery then quads sets are the perfect place to start
Place a large rolled-up towel or roller under your knee, so your knee is bent about 30o
Tips: If you want more of a bend in your knee to start with, use 2 or more towels rolled up together, a cushion or folded pillow
Progression: Use ankle weights
Keep the leg you want to work out straight and bend the other knee, foot planted
Top Tips: Keep the knee straight throughout – the heel and back of the knee should touch down at the same time
Sit on a firm chair with both feet flat on the floor
Progression: Sitting in a higher chair or on a table so your foot is off the floor to start with allows you to move the leg through a greater range
Standing up from sitting is a movement we do countless times a day but actually works the quadriceps muscles quite hard.
These are great functional quadriceps exercises for knee pain for anyone, just choose the level that’s right for you. Make sure you use a firm chair for these. The lower the chair, the harder these exercises will work the quads
Scoot towards the front of the chair, feet flat on the floor hip distance apart
To Make It Easier: use a chair with arms and push through them as you stand up
To Make It Harder: increase your speed
Test Your Progress: see how many you can do in 30 seconds or 1 minute and repeat the test once a week
This quadriceps exercise for knee pain is the same action as the previous one but is performed with only one foot on the floor throughout.
Not only does this help with quadriceps strengthening, it will also help to improve your balance.
The main focus initially should be on control rather than speed.
Squats are excellent quadriceps exercises for knee pain, but if done incorrectly, they can actually make knee pain worse!
Here are my top tips for doing squats safely:
Wall squats are a great place to start if you want to include squats in your quad exercises.
Progression: Gradually increase the depth of the squat and/or how long you hold it
The wall provides support and takes some of the weight off the knees making them less likely to aggravate knee problems and thus making wall squats brilliant quadriceps exercises for knee pain.
Stand, resting your fingers on a table or chair for balance
Top Tips: Let most of the weight go through your heels, and push down through the heels as you come back up
Progressions: Don’t hold on to anything for support
: Increase the depth of the squat
: Hold weights or a kettle bell as you do squats
Bend one leg back behind you, holding on to a stable support for balance
Top Tips: Really think about the position of your feet, knees and hips with this one – follow the squat guidelines above
Progression: Once you can do these without your knees wobbling side to side, try not holding on to anything - fix your eyes on one spot to help with balance
Stand on your target leg and prop your other foot behind you on a chair
Why Do These? If you are looking for really challenging quadriceps exercises for knee pain, this is a great one. The support of the chair means you can lower down to a really deep squat so you really work the quadriceps muscles
If you are progressing well with your quadriceps exercises for knee pain, then it might be time to try doing some lunges. If you are just starting out with quad exercises however, these may well be too challenging at first and may aggravate your knee pain.
The same principles apply for lunges as for squatting exercises for quadriceps so make sure to read back through the top tips before starting these.
Stand with feet hip width apart
Top Tip: Pop your hands on your hips as you do this exercise to check that you are keeping your pelvis straight rather than dipping to one side
Backwards lunges are very challenging quadriceps exercises for knee pain but extremely effective. They also work your glutes and hamstrings
Progressions: Increase the depth of the lunge
: Hold weights whilst doing the exercise
Only do this one once you can do 20 reps on each leg of the forwards lunge with no ill-effects
Progression: Step the front food onto a step or box as shown to increase the depth of the dip
Using a step as part of your quadriceps exercises for knee pain helps to work the thigh muscles that bit harder. Steps are also a great tool to improve control and stamina, as well as strength.
Stand sideways with both feet near the edge of a step/box
Top Tips: Maintain proper knee alignment - knee in line with the 2nd toe and not passing in front of the toes
: If you don’t have a step, stand sideways on the bottom step of a staircase
NB These quads exercises works the leg that stays on the box
Stand with both feet towards the front of a step/box
Top Tip: It’s very easy to let the knee collapse inwards with this one so keep thinking about your knee alignment throughout
Stand facing a step/box
Progression: Aim to gradually increase your speed
Test Yourself: check how many your can do in 30 seconds/1 minute and retest yourself every week. As your quadriceps strength and endurance improves, along with your stamina, you should be able to do more steps in the given time
Once you have started to strengthen the quads, it can also really help to stretch them.
Muscles often get tight in response to weakness and pain, but if you start to stretch them before strengthening them, you can actually make things worse.
Stretching quadriceps exercises for knee pain should be started once you feel your strength improving.
In the quads stretches section we look at some simple tests you can do to see if you do have tight quadriceps, the best ways to stretch the quads and how to get the best results for the minimum effort.
Quadriceps exercises for knee pain can make a massive difference in most cases of knee pain, particularly:
Sometimes with knee pain, there is weakness in the muscles that control how the kneecap moves, vastus medialis oblique, VMO. If you get any grating or grinding sensations in your knee, try these VMO exercises as part of you quadriceps exercises for knee pain routine.
Many people also find using resistance bands really helpful with knee exercises - check out our article on the Benefits of Resistance Bands to find out how they could help you.
Page Last Updated: 11/03/21
Next Review Due: 11/03/23
Resistance Band Exs
January 18, 2023
January 18, 2023
Exercise Top Tips
November 4, 2021