Knee pain is a pain in the, well … knee. If you’ve been having knee pain or reoccurring knee pain, it’s a good idea to start with some stretching. A pretty common cause of unexplained knee pain is tightness in the front of your legs and in your hips. Since your quad muscles wrap around and stabilize the knee joint, tightness here can cause a pulling of the joint, which can result in pain. Likewise tightness in your hips can often cause a slight rotation of the leg, which also puts your knee joint at risk. (You can also look at a tightening of the psoas which very often causes an imbalance in the hips and legs as well, but that was discussed in a previous post.) Runners especially seem to suffer since they are putting considerably more impact on the knee joints and even a slight imbalance can cause severe knee pain.
A good place to start is with your basic quad stretch, but shake it up a bit and pay really close attention to where you feel the stretch. You can intensify the stretch and increase the impact it has by making two slight adjustments:
1) During the stretch be sure to tuck your pelvis, maintain good posture and keep a strong core (eliminating the arch you may have in your back while doing the stretch)
2) Make sure that your bent knee is pulled inward toward your opposite knee, not pulled away from the midline of your body.
These two minor adjustments make a huge difference on the efficacy of the stretch!
Now you can increase the range of the stretch even further by rotating the bent knee out. Please note you are not pulling the whole leg out, but rather maintaining the above position and rotating just the knee outward. Now do the same thing again, but this time rotate the bent knee inward.
You will probably feel the stretch all the way into the muscles surrounding the knee. But please remember, never stretch into pain! You want to feel it, for sure, but it shouldn’t hurt.
You also want to be sure and stretch the glutes out. Tightness in the piriformis especially can cause an outward rotation of the leg. Try this stretch to try and relieve tight hips:
1) Lay on the floor with your knees bent and cross your right leg over onto your left knee.
2) Now slowly bring the left leg toward your chest as far as it will go with your hands clasped behind the thigh. Mind your alignment and be sure that your right knee maintains a nice 90 degree angle.
3) Deepen this stretch by pausing at the end of step 2 and using your hands, pull your right foot toward you with yor left hand and push your right knee away from you with your right hand creating a rotational stretch of the hip.
The key to this stretch is in making sure that during it your hips remain evenly aligned. Avoid rolling over onto one side or the other to compensate for the discomfort of the stretch. If your glutes are tight this is NOT a comfortable stretch, but it is really effective! Repeat on both sides. You will probably find that the side corresponding with the painful knee is much tighter!
You can also see some more great quad stretches here