Do you have problems with your knees?
You’re not alone. Knee injuries are incredibly common.
In order to ease your knee pain, you’ll have to use a range of rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the joint as well as the muscles around it.
In this article, we’ll go over the best knee rehab exercises that you can use to reduce and even eliminate your knee pain.
Read on for some of the best knee rehab exercises out there.
Yoga Knee Rehab Exercises
Yoga is great for building strong muscles and stabilized joints as well as improving flexibility and range of motion. This means that it can reduce your risk of experiencing injuries in the future as well as rehabilitate ones which you already have.
Here are some yoga knee rehab exercises you should use.
This is a basic exercise for beginners, which strengthens the muscles in the back of the knees as well as the thighs.
In order to perform this pose, stand with your feet hip-width apart and a neutral spine. Bend forward at the hips as far as you can, then bend at the knees to allow your hands to reach the ground.
From there, try to straighten the knees as much as you can. If you can’t get them fully straight, don’t worry. Just go as far as you can without experiencing any pain.
As you try to straighten the knees, put your hands on the back of your legs and try to pull your head towards your legs.
This is predominantly known as a glute exercise, but yields great benefits for the knees, too. Therefore, it’s commonly used in conjunction with other knee rehab exercises.
Lie on a yoga mat with your back flat against the floor. Draw your belly in towards your spine so that your lower back flattens, which should mean that you can’t fit your hand between your back and the floor.
Bend your legs so that your feet sit on the floor directly under your knees. Place your hands on the floor parallel to your legs.
Using your feet and glutes, push your hips upwards. Your knees, hips, and shoulders should be in a straight line. Engage your core to stabilize your body.
Hold this pose for a few seconds before slowly coming back down to the floor and repeating.
Half Frog Pose
This pose stretches the muscles at the front and sides of the knee. Start by laying on the floor on your front. Your legs should be straight.
Rest your forearms in front of you in a sphinx-like pose. This will cause your upper body to come up off the floor.
From there, reach one hand behind you to grab your foot on the same side, then pull it towards your body. If you are flexible enough, your heel should meet your glute.
Hold this pose for a few seconds, breathing throughout the movement, then release slowly and do the same on the other side.
Pilates Knee Rehab Exercises
Pilates is great for strengthening muscles as well as improving the mobility of your joints. Regular practice will improve your posture, too.
Here are some Pilates exercises which can be used to reduce knee problems.
This exercise works to strengthen the muscles above the knee on the outer thigh.
Lie on a yoga mat, on your side. Place your legs on top of each other and bend them at the knee at an angle of about 45 degrees.
Extend your arm out on the mat and lay your head on it. If you find it uncomfortable, you can try putting a towel down to rest your head on.
With your top leg, raise the knee up to the ceiling so your legs open up like a clamshell. As you do so, maintain tightness in your core and the natural curvature of your spine.
You can keep your feet together, but to achieve a fuller range of motion after warming up, try lifting the top foot to separate them.
Repeat this exercise for 10-20 reps before switching sides and doing the same again.
Inner Thigh Circles
It’s important to maintain symmetry in a workout to create balance in the strength of opposing muscles, so the next exercise focuses on the inner thigh.
The inner thigh muscle is often neglected, and this can be a contributor to knee pain.
To perform this exercise, lay on your side and prop your upper body up by putting your forearm on the floor. Create a straight line from your shoulder down to your elbow for balance.
Bend your top leg, resting the foot flat on the floor. Extend the lower leg out straight and lift it slightly off the ground. At this point, you should already feel your inner thigh muscle engaging.
From there, move the leg around in small circles. The leg should be the only body part that’s moving, so make sure to maintain your position with your upper body, core, and glutes.
Do 10 circles clockwise and counter-clockwise, then turn over and repeat with the other leg.
Bridge with a Ball
This exercise is a scaled-up version of the bridge yoga exercise described earlier. Once you feel comfortable with that one, you can move onto this one for more of a challenge.
To start, lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, sitting in a straight line under the knees. Put an exercise ball, such as a light medicine ball, between your knees.
Put your hands at your sides, palm-down on the floor. Using your glutes, raise your hips off the floor, keeping the ball between your knees.
Once your are comfortable with your balance, gently squeeze the ball. You’ll feel your inner thighs working here.
If you want to make it even more difficult, extend one leg. Taking away one point of contact from the floor will force you to work harder on maintaining your position.
Repeat this exercise for 2-3 sets of 10 reps on each side.
Bodyweight Knee Rehab Exercises
To add resistance, there are bodyweight exercises you can do. These are great because they require no equipment and can be done just about anywhere.
They are generally higher intensity than yoga knee rehab exercises but are just as beneficial.
This exercise strengthens the quads, as well as the ligaments around the knee.
Stand with your back against the wall, about 15 inches away, then bend at the knees so your back is flat against the wall.
Your hands can be our in front of you, resting on your thighs, or against the wall for support. Choose whatever is most comfortable for you.
With your heels planted and toes and eyes facing forwards, slide your back down the wall so you’re in a squat position. The angle at which you come down depends on your comfort and strength, but do not exceed a 90-degree angle.
If you experience any pain in the knee during this movement, stop immediately.
Hold the squat position for a few seconds, come up, and then repeat.
Seated Straight Leg Raises
Sit either on a chair or on the floor, with both feet flat on the floor.
Extend one leg out straight, lifting the foot off the floor. Hold it there for a few seconds, trying not to let it wobble or shake. After that, bring it back down and repeat on the other side.
This is one of the most basic knee rehab exercises there is.
Weighted Knee Rehab Exercises
These knee rehab exercises should only be performed once you have built strength with yoga and bodyweight exercises first. Going straight into using weights can be dangerous and result in further injury.
Once you’ve built a strong foundation, it’s helpful to start using equipment to enable you to progress further. Here are some exercises you can do with weights.
Most fitness gyms have a leg extension machine. If used wisely, it can be a great tool for rehabilitating knees after injury.
This exercise predominantly strengthens the quads, but benefits all the ligaments around the knee, too.
Sit on the leg extension machine with your back flat against the rest behind you. The pad should rest at the bottom of your shins, just above your feet.
Set the weight to something very light, to begin with. This is very important. Being too ambitious could cause further damage to your knee and slow your recovery.
Holding the handles at either side of your thighs, extend your legs at the knee to bring the pad up. At the top of the movement, your legs should be completely straight.
In a slow and controlled way, bring it back down to the bottom, making sure not to slam the weights down. Repeat this for 3 sets of 10 reps.
Dumbbell Step Ups
This exercise requires the use of a box or step and some dumbbells. You can start without weights and then add them once you feel confident enough to do so.
Start with your feet a hip-distance apart, and with one foot, step up onto the box. Your knee should be at a 90-degree angle. Then, step up with the other foot.
Using one leg at a time, come back down to the floor and repeat again for 4 sets of 15 reps.
As you perform this exercise, keep your body as stable as possible and control the movement as much as you can so as not to twist and turn.
This exercise is not only great for knee rehabilitation, but for building strength throughout the legs. Again, it can be performed without weights for complete beginners, but the use of a barbell will increase the intensity.
Put a light barbell on your shoulders, resting on the meaty part of your upper back. Your shoulder blades should be back and your core should be engaged to support the weight.
Stand with your spine straight and your feet a hip-distance apart, then take a big step forward with one leg. Your toes and knees should be in line, both pointing in the same direction, straight forward.
With the back leg, bend down so the knee goes towards to floor. Keep it under control, so as not to let the knee hit the floor. Your body should come down in a straight line, but your eyes should be looking forward keeping the spine straight.
Come back to the starting position and then repeat with the opposite leg.
How to Protect Your Knees
Once the knee has been injured, it can become very weak and is therefore susceptible to further damage.
Building the strength back in the knee can be a long and tedious process, but it’s crucial to persist with knee rehab exercises in order to facilitate the recovery process.
When performing any knee rehabilitation exercise, it’s extremely important to protect the joint in order to make sure the movement is as safe as possible.
You can do that by wearing knee braces for extra support during your knee rehab exercises.
If you’re overweight, you can also reduce the pressure on your knees by losing weight. There is a strong link between weight loss and knee pain. If this is the case for you, you would benefit from adding cardiovascular exercise to your routine.
Make sure to avoid exercises that could injure your knees. Choose ones that put as little pressure as possible on the knees, like swimming or using a cross trainer machine. High impact exercises like running are not ideal.
For more variety in your routine of knee rehab exercises, you can use extra tools like resistance bands.
Take It Slow
Whichever type of knee rehab exercise you use to fix your knee problems, be sure to start slowly and increase the intensity gradually over time. That way, the ligaments will develop as well as the muscles, resulting in a strong knee joint which will be less susceptible to injury in the future.
Every time you exercise your knee, warm up properly first. This is an important step in preventing injury.
For more information about how to take care of your knees after injury, see our post on natural treatments for sore knees.
If you don’t feel comfortable undertaking a knee rehab routine on your own or don’t see any improvement with your home exercises, you can seek help from a professional such as an orthopedic specialist.
A physical therapist can demonstrate knee rehab exercises for you and guide you through them. A professional will show you scaled versions and variations, adjusting the difficulty of each one.
For more information, see our post on physical therapy treatments for knees.