Exercises for the Knee's Range of Motion

If you have arthritis in your knees or have suffered an injury, you may have lost some range of motion in your knees. Range of motion refers to the flexibility in your knee joint. It is important to be able to fully straighten and bend your knee as much as possible. Without good range of motion, it is hard to climb stairs, bend down, get out of a chair and perform daily activities. Several exercises for the knee's range of motion can be done at home. To get the best benefits, do range of motion exercises every day. Your physical therapist may even suggest doing them two to three times daily if you are recovering from injury or surgery. Start slowly and always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

Your knee may need some extra attention. (Image: m-gucci/iStock/Getty Images)

Going Through the Motions

The knee extension exercise helps you regain the flexibility needed to straighten your knee. According to the New Hampshire Knee Center, a good exercise is to stretch your leg out on the floor or a bed and place a towel roll under your heel. Let gravity help you push your knee down, and straighten it as much as you can. If tolerable, you can rest a weight on the top of your knee to help. You can also place the towel roll under your knee. Try to lift your heel and straighten the knee completely. As your range of motion gets better, make the towel roll bigger or use a large pillow. Eventually work up to sitting in a chair, and try to lift your foot from the floor straight out in front of you.

The Flip Side

The knee flexion exercise helps improve range of motion so you can bend your knee as far as possible. Start by lying on your stomach. Bend your knee and bring the heel as close to your buttocks as possible. As that gets easier, work up to sitting in a chair and pulling your foot under the chair as far as you can. The New Hampshire Knee Center states that you can use your other foot to help push your injured leg back further. Eventually, try to stand, bend the knee and hold onto a pant leg or your ankle and squeeze the heel to your buttocks.

Getting Stronger

If you are able to bear weight on your affected leg, squats and wall slides help improve knee range of motion as well as strengthening the muscles that surround the knee joint. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, strengthening the muscles in your legs takes pressure off your knee joint. Stretching exercises helps to prevent future injuries. Try standing a foot or two away from a wall, and lean back so your head, upper back and buttocks are against the wall. Then slide down as far as you can, and slide back up so your knees are straight. You can also do this exercise with a large or small ball between your back and the wall, which is a good way to increase flexibility. As this gets easy, stand away from the wall and do traditional squats.

Road to Recovery

As your leg flexors and extensors become stronger, knee extensions and leg curls can be performed with ankle weights, elastic resistance or using weight-training equipment. Progress gradually, and move your limbs slowly through their full range of motion. If using weight machines, work your limbs independently of one another to achieve balanced strength in both legs. Pain in your joints may indicate you have progressed too quickly.

Stretching Strategies

If the muscles around your knee are tight, they prevent you from moving your knee joint through its full range of motion. Along with the exercises above, it is important to stretch the quadriceps and hamstrings as well. Try standing, seated or supine (lying on the back) calf and hamstring stretches and quadriceps stretches. A good quadriceps stretch is similar to the standing knee flexion exercise where you grab a pant leg or ankle. The difference is that you want to hold stretches for a slow 30-second count without bouncing.

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