7 Knee Mobility Exercises Recommended by Physical Therapists

Learn about the importance of knee mobility exercises and discover the moves recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 17, 2024
Table of Contents

You probably don’t think about it, but every time you bend and straighten your leg you’re stretching and strengthening your knee joint. And targeted knee mobility exercises are necessary to help your knees stay strong as they go through their range of motion, which happens during so many daily activities, from walking to sitting to kneeling down. 

“Knee mobility also plays a role in proper gait (walking mechanics) and your ability to get out of a chair, go up stairs, or step over a curb,” says Samantha Stewart, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. 

Read on to learn about how improving your knee mobility can improve your everyday function and reduce knee pain, especially with these knee mobility exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Samantha Stewart, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Stewart is a Hinge Health physical therapist with over 8 years of experience. She is certified in myofascial trigger point therapy.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

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1. Heel Slide

1. Heel Slide

This move takes you through the repetitive motion of bending and straightening your knee. “This helps lubricate the knee joint, so you can better move it through its range of motion,” says Dr. Stewart. 

How to Do It: 

  • Start by sitting with your legs straight out in front of you on a couch, bed, or floor. 

  • Then loop a towel around the bottom of your targeted foot. 

  • Now use that towel to unweight your foot as you slide your foot toward your hips, allowing your knee to bend. 

  • Bend your knee as far as you are able, then slide your foot back to the starting position.

2. Quad Stretch

2. Quad Stretch

This move helps provide a great stretch to your quadricep, the big muscle on the front of your thigh that attaches to your kneecap and helps with straightening your leg.

How to Do It: 

  • To begin, stand with your hands holding onto a table. 

  • Next, bend your knee, bringing your heel up toward your butt, and grab onto your foot or ankle. 

  • Once your foot is secure, gently pull your foot toward your butt until you feel a nice stretch in the front of your thigh and hold.

  • Release your foot back to the floor to return to standing.

3. Knee Extension

3. Knee Extension

Repeatedly extending, or straightening, the knee helps promote mobility in the knee joint. “You’ll also work through a huge part of your range of motion by straightening it all the way, which is important for walking, bending down, and getting back up from the floor,” says Dr. Stewart. 

How to Do It:

  • Start by sitting comfortably in a chair.  

  • Move your foot toward the ceiling to straighten your leg. The back of your thigh should remain on the chair as you hold this position. 

  • Relax your foot back to the floor.

4. Hamstring Curl

4. Hamstring Curl

This exercise, which involves bringing your heel toward your buttock as you bend your knee, is the opposite of knee extension. “I love this one because it stretches the quad in a more comfortable way,” says Dr. Stewart. 

How to Do It: 

  • Start by standing with both hands resting on a sturdy surface, like a table or chair. 

  • Lift one leg’s heel off the floor and move it toward your butt. 

  • Squeeze the muscles in the back of your leg while you hold this position. 

  • Lower your foot back to the floor.

5. Seated Hamstring Stretch

5. Seated Hamstring Stretch

The hamstring is a big muscle that runs down the back of the thigh and attaches below the knee joint. “If your hamstring is tight, you won’t be able to fully straighten your leg, which is pivotal for knee function,” says Dr. Stewart. 

How to Do It: 

  • Sit at the edge of a chair and straighten one leg out in front of you while resting your heel on the floor. 

  • Hinge at your hips to lean your chest toward the floor and hold. 

  • Return to the starting position.

6. Calf Stretch

6. Calf Stretch

Your calf muscles attach above the back of your knee joint. Tight calves, explains Dr. Stewart, can also impact how well you can straighten your leg, so it’s important to keep them loose and flexible.

How to Do It: 

  • Start by standing, facing a wall, with the palms of your hands flat on the wall. 

  • Now take a step back with your target leg. 

  • Pressing your back heel down toward the floor, move your hips and front knee toward the wall. Your back leg should remain mostly straight during this stretch.

7. Quadruped Sit Back

7. Quadruped Sit Back

Dr. Stewart likes this more-advanced move because it’s a functional way of stretching the end range of your knee joint. “This will mimic things you’d do in everyday life, like crouching or bending down to pick something up,” she says. 

How to Do It: 

  • On a yoga mat, start on your hands and knees with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips, with your toes curled under. 

  • Move your hips toward your heels as you walk your hands back toward your knees.

  • Then walk your hands forward to return to the starting position.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Why Is Knee Mobility Important? 

Knee mobility is important because, without it, you wouldn’t be able to move your knees freely without pain or irritation. Limited mobility can be irritating if it’s the result of muscle tension or arthritis, but it can also cause other problems. Without proper knee mobility, you may lose strength in your leg muscles, making you more prone to chronic knee pain or an acute injury. 

The repetitive motion involved in the PT exercises above can help lubricate your joints, which, in turn, can help the joint and surrounding area relax and ease into more healthy movement, says Dr. Stewart. Promoting flexibility in the tissues surrounding your knees is one of the best ways to promote better mobility, improve your daily activities, and reduce irritating muscle tension in the process.

PT Tip: Prevention Is the Best Cure

Yes, your knees are resilient and designed to take a lot of the stress that’s put on them in your everyday life. But that doesn't mean you can’t take small steps to keep them healthy and mobile to help you maintain your daily function and prevent future problems, whether acute injuries or chronic pain. 

Even if you don’t have knee problems now, practicing the above knee mobility exercises can help ensure it stays that way. “If you don’t take care of your knees before their mobility is limited, it can be harder to recover when you do get injured,” says Dr. Stewart. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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