Tightness in your knees can be irritating since it interferes with simple tasks like walking and sitting. The sensation of tight knee tendons is often due to tightness throughout the muscles that are connected to tendons. Tendons alone do not have the ability to contract and relax, but the muscles to which they attach do. In order to relieve knee tightness, you can mobilize your joint with a series of exercises consisting of stretching, aerobic activity, range of motion and strengthening.
Focusing on Specific Muscles
There are particular muscles to concentrate on due to their action and location around the knee. A study in the "New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy" found that routine stretching of the hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles for 6 weeks improved knee range of motion in both healthy and osteoarthritic knees. This emphasizes the main movers of the knee. However, it's important to also include the hip adductors -- the supportive muscles on the inside of the knee -- as well as the iliotibial band -- a strip of thick fibrous tissue running down the outside of the thigh and knee, which is also known as the IT band.
Stretching and Flexibility Exercises
Stretching exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, hip flexors, hip adductors and IT band are essential for maintaining and improving knee flexibility. A couple of basic exercises to start with are a quadriceps stretch and a hamstring stretch. These will lengthen the muscles in the front and back of your thigh, respectively. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching 2 to 3 days per week and holding each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
Aerobic Exercises and Range of Motion
Another strategy to decrease tightness is adding aerobic exercises to your routine. Low-impact cycling, elliptical training and swimming will increase the temperature and blood flow of your muscles, promoting muscle health. Repetitively bending and straightening your knee with minimal joint impact can increase the range of motion in your knee. A typical aerobic session starts with a 5- to 10-minute warmup, followed by 20 to 60 minutes of training and a 5- to 10-minute cool-down.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, a consistent strengthening routine can also decrease tight muscles and tendons. Muscles need to be strong enough to support your knee through a full range of motion and thus strength deficits can cause a decrease in joint mobility. A strengthening routine should focus on muscles of the hip, knee and ankle. Squats and lunges, using proper form, can strengthen all 3 areas at once. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing strengthening exercises 2 to 3 days per week and completing 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions for each exercise.
It is important to ease into a new exercise program slowly in order to avoid injury. Typically, you will notice less tightness with consistent exercise after 4 to 6 weeks. Exercises should not be painful, and keep in mind that other conditions can cause tightness and stiffness in your knee, including common disorders such as osteoarthritis. Consult your doctor if you have any pain or inflammation around your knee joint.
- Anatomy Expert: Knee Muscles
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise
- Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques; Carolyn Kisner, Lynn Allen Colby
- New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy: Effects of a Six Week Lower Limb Stretching Programme on Range of Motion, Peak Passive Torque, and Stiffness in People With and Without Osteoarthritis in the Knee