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Knee Rehab Exercises


Updated May 16, 2014

Knee Rehab Exercises

Knee exercises are an important part of rehab from injury.

Image © Christine Glade

When To Exercise Your Knee:

Knee pain is among the most commonly encountered orthopedic problems. While there are many causes of knee pain, most can be helped with some specific stretching and strengthening exercises. Even if surgery is necessary on the knee, rehabilitation exercises will certainly be a part of your recovery process.

If surgery is necessary, we know that rehab tends to be a smoother process in stronger knees. Patients with stronger muscles around the knee going into surgery have a faster, more successful recovery.

Why Knee Exercises Are a Must:

The goal of knee rehab is twofold. One is to prevent weakening of the muscles that surround the knee. Second is to diminish the burden on the knee joint.

People who have stronger muscles surrounding the knee often have fewer problems with the joint. Weaker muscles create more work for the knee joint by providing less support. Conversely, strong muscles of the leg better support and control the knee joint.

Stretching Out:

The first and last part of any exercise program should be a simple stretching routine. A few simple leg stretches can get your rehab exercises started off properly. Try not to neglect this step, even if you're in a hurry.

Before you begin any stretching program, be certain you understand the basic rules of how to properly stretch. Improper stretching technique can be counterproductive and even lead to the development of injuries.

Exercising Muscles that Surround The Knee:

The muscles surrounding the knee include the quadriceps, hamstring, and calf muscles. The focus of most knee rehabilitation is on these muscles. When injuries occur, often these muscles become weaker and less supportive of the knee.

Exercises for the muscles that surround the knee include quadriceps strengthening exercises, hamstring strengthening exercises, and calf strengthening exercises.

Working the Hip Stabilizers:

Often neglected, but a common source of knee problems, are the muscles around the hip joint. Remember when someone once told you the leg bone is connected to the hip bone? Well, new research is revealing that knee problems can often be traced to weakness of the muscles that surround the hip. Many progressive physical therapists devote a significant amount of rehab time to strengthening the hip stabilizing muscles.

A program to develop the hip stabilizers should focus on the hip abductors, hip flexors and gluteal muscles. Most of these exercises can be done without weights, and should emphasize proper form.

Increasing Muscle Endurance:

Many patients rehab their knees by doing a select number of strengthening exercises a few time each day. But the fact is that just as critical as the overall strength, is the endurance of these muscles. Without endurance, these muscles will quickly fatigue.

Increasing endurance is best accomplished with low-impact cardiovascular activities, among the best of which is riding a stationary bicycle. Also excellent are swimming or other pool workouts. Walking is an OK exercise, but higher impact on the knees. If you must walk or do other high impact sports, try to also incorporate some cycling and swimming.


"Knee Arthroscopy Exercise Guide" American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2000

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