Effective Knee Pain Exercises for Relief

Alleviating knee pain and increasing joint mobility through the power of physical therapy exercises is a safe and effective method preferred by experts worldwide. This requires a grounded understanding of the anatomy of the knee, recognizing the components like bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage that collectively function for smooth movement. Alongside, learning about the potential causes and associated symptoms of knee pain can empower individuals to pinpoint their issues accurately, thereby tailoring their exercises to specific needs. Embarking on this educational journey towards improved knee health is an investment in your overall wellbeing.

Understanding Knee Anatomy

Anatomy of the Knee

The knee is one of the most complex and largest joints in the human body. Understanding its structure and function is crucial for diagnosing and treating knee pain.

The knee consists of three main bones:

  1. Femur (thigh bone): The femur is the largest bone in the human body. Its lower end forms the upper part of the knee joint.
  2. Tibia (shin bone): This is the second largest bone and forms the lower part of the knee joint.
  3. Patella (knee cap): This is a small, triangular bone that protects the knee joint.

These bones articulate to form the knee joint and are bound together by ligaments and tendons:

  1. ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament): This ligament controls the rotation and forward movement of the tibia.
  2. PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament): The PCL controls the backward movement of the tibia.
  3. MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament): This ligament provides stability to the inner knee.
  4. LCL (Lateral Collateral Ligament): The LCL provides stability to the outer knee.
  5. Patellar Tendon: This tendon connects the patella to the tibia.

Finally, the bones are cushioned by cartilages (menisci). There are two types of cartilages: medial meniscus (inner knee cartilage) and lateral meniscus (outer knee cartilage).

Identifying Knee Pain

Knee pain can occur in any of these structures. The exact location, intensity, and nature of the pain can provide clues as to what’s causing it. For example:

  1. Pain or stiffness in the front of the knee may indicate Patellar Tendinitis, a condition where the patellar tendon is inflamed. This often results from overuse or repetitive movements. Symptoms include pain where the patellar tendon joins the kneecap, knee stiffness, knee pain when squatting or climbing stairs, and cracking sounds in the knee (crepitus).

  2. Pain or swelling on the inner side of the knee may suggest a problem with the MCL, possibly due to a tear or sprain. This might be caused by a sudden change of direction or a direct impact to the outer side of the knee.

  3. Pain or swelling on the outer side of the knee might suggest an issue with the LCL. This is often caused by a direct impact to the inside of the knee.

Understanding your knee anatomy helps you pinpoint the source of your pain, thereby allowing you to tailor your exercise routine to treat the exact cause of your pain.

Tailoring Your Exercise Routine

Once you’ve identified the likely source of your knee pain, you can now tailor your exercise routine. For example:

  1. If you suffer from patellar tendinitis, exercises that strengthen your quadriceps and hamstrings can help relieve the strain on the patellar tendon. Examples include leg presses and hamstring curls.

  2. If you have MCL or LCL issues, look for exercises that strengthen your inner and outer thigh muscles. Examples include side lunges and lateral leg raises.

Remember, always consult with a healthcare professional or physiotherapist before starting a new exercise regimen to ensure it’s safe and effective for your situation.

An image showing the anatomy of the knee, highlighting the femur, tibia, and patella, as well as the ligaments and tendons that stabilize the knee joint.

Causes and Symptoms of Knee Pain


Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of knee pain, especially among older adults. Wear and tear over time leads to a breakdown in the cartilage cushioning your knee joint. When the protective cartilage is worn down, your bones rub together and cause pain and stiffness. This condition may also lead to the formation of osteophytes, or bone spurs, which add to the discomfort.

Symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include:

  • Swelling and stiffness in the knee
  • Difficulty in bending or straightening the knee
  • A crackling or popping noise when moving the knee
  • Pain that worsens after activity or towards the end of the day

Meniscus Tear

The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in your knee that cushions and stabilizes the joint. A meniscus tear is a common injury in sports but can also result from degenerative conditions like arthritis. This type of injury can restrict your knee’s range of motion and cause pain.

The symptoms of a meniscus tear often include:

  • Knee pain, particularly when twisting or rotating the knee
  • Swelling or stiffness
  • Difficulty straightening the knee fully
  • Sensation of your knee ‘giving way’ or inability to bear weight on it


Bursitis of the knee, otherwise known as ‘housemaid’s knee’, is a cause of knee pain that results from frequent and sustained kneeling. The condition is also prevalent among runners and athletes who engage in jumping sports.

Bursitis occurs when the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that help to cushion the knee joint, become inflamed and painful.

Common symptoms include:

  • Swelling or warmth over the knee
  • Pain when kneeling or bending the knee
  • Tenderness or stiffness around the knee joint

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints. In some people, the condition can also damage skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.

The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis often simultaneously affects several joints and usually includes the knees.

Symptoms often include:

  • Knee pain and joint swelling
  • Warm, tender, and swollen joints
  • Morning stiffness that may last for hours
  • Fatigue and loss of appetite

If you experience consistent knee pain, it’s important to consult with a medical professional so that you can receive accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Image of a person holding their knee in pain

Doing Knee Pain Physical Therapy Exercises

Understanding Knee Pain

Knee pain can be a result of various conditions, including arthritis, patellar tendinitis, meniscus tears, or just overuse of the knee joint. The pain can interfere with daily tasks and activities, but performing certain physical therapy exercises may help alleviate the discomfort.

Knee Physical Therapy Exercises

It’s crucial to consult with your physical therapist or doctor before starting these exercises.

Straight Leg Raises

If you’re too weak to do other exercises, this exercise is a great starting point. It puts little to no strain on the knee.

  • Lie on your back on the floor or bed, with one leg bent at the knee, and the other leg straight.
  • Lift your straight leg about 6 to 12 inches off the floor and hold it for a few seconds.
  • Lower your leg back slowly and repeat the process about 10 to 15 times.
  • Switch legs and do the same.

Hamstring Curls

These are a great exercise for the back of your thighs and your glutes.

  • Stand next to a chair or wall for balance.
  • Lift your affected leg and bend it back at the knee, bringing your heel up towards your buttocks.
  • Keep your thighs aligned and hold the curl for a few seconds before slowly lowering your foot back down.
  • Repeat this 15 times and switch legs.

Wall Squats

This exercise strengthens your quadriceps.

  • Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Slowly bend your knees while keeping your back and pelvis against the wall.
  • Hold the squat for a few seconds then slowly slide back up the wall.
  • Repeat 10 to 12 times.

Heel Raise

This exercise aims at strengthening your calves.

  • Stand up straight and push down into the balls of both feet to raise your body upward.
  • Use a wall or chair for balance if needed.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down and repeat.
  • Do two sets of 15.


This strengthens your legs.

  • Stand in front of a step, like a sturdy bench or stairs.
  • Step up onto it with one foot, followed by the other foot.
  • Step down in the same order.
  • Repeat this 10 to 15 times, then switch the leading foot.

Safety Precautions When Doing Knee Pain Exercise

Make sure not to rush these exercises, doing them gradually and maintaining the proper form is more beneficial than rushing and potentially causing more harm to your knee. Stop any exercise that causes more knee pain. Be consistent with physical therapy exercises; repetition is key to improvement.

After your session, use a warm towel or heating pad on your knee to promote blood flow and soothe aches. Regularly doing these exercises can help improve your knee’s flexibility and strength, thereby reducing knee pain.

Image of a person stretching their knee while performing physical therapy exercises

Overcoming knee discomfort isn’t solely about the physical; it’s intimately tied to your understanding of the joint itself and the potential root causes of the pain you’re experiencing. Fully comprehending the knee’s anatomy, the various causes of discomfort, and their respective symptoms are vital steps on the path to relief. Armed with this information and the practical know-how of specific physical therapy exercises, you’re equipped to confront and alleviate your knee pain. Remember, you possess the power and the tools necessary for your journey towards improved knee health and, ultimately, a life unencumbered by knee pain.