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Knee pain is one of the most common orthopedic conditions for which people seek medical treatment. It includes pain felt behind and around the knee cap, especially during activities like stair climbing, squatting, running, and walking while carrying a heavy load. Knee pain can prevent you from participating in your favorite activities and performing daily tasks. Without proper treatment, it can linger for years.

Knee pain can be caused by a variety of factors, some of which include knee stiffness, incorrect positioning of the knee cap at rest or with movement, flat feet, improper exercise form, and weakness of the muscles that control the hip and knee.

A physical therapist can work with you to address your knee pain. After an evaluation, a physical therapist will design an individualized comprehensive treatment program to address the specific factors causing your knee pain. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation.

To find a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.

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These exercises are proven by research to reduce pain and improve your ability to participate in the activities you love.

Consult your health care provider before starting these exercises to determine if they are right for you. If you experience any symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness at any time, you should stop immediately. These exercises are provided for educational information only. 

1. Clamshells

Lay on your side and support your neck using a pillow or a towel roll. Bend your knees toward your chest, keeping your back straight and your feet aligned with your body. Keep your feet together, lift your top knee toward the ceiling. Keep your hips straight, not allowing yourself to roll forward when you lift your leg. Pause briefly, then slowly lower your knee back down to the start position. Do 10 repetitions of this exercise on each leg, 3 sets once per day. Perform this exercise 2-3 days per week. 

Optional: Place your back against a wall to keep your body aligned and to prevent from rolling forward.

A physical therapist shows how to do a clamshell exercise.


2. Bridging

Lay on your back and bend your knees so your feet are flat. Support your head with a pillow or towel roll. Keep your knees, feet, and hips in line with each other. Lay your arms by your side, keeping them relaxed. Tighten the muscles of your buttocks and lift your hips toward the ceiling. Only raise your hips as high as you can without causing back pain or too much pressure. Pause, then slowly lower your hips down to the start position. Do 10 repetitions of this exercise, 3 sets once per day. Perform this exercise 2-3 days per week.

A physical therapists shows how to do the bridging exercise.

3. Hip Abduction

Lay on your side and bend your bottom knee to give you better balance. Support your head with a pillow or towel roll. Straighten the top knee by tightening the muscles on the top of your thigh. Flex your foot so your toes face forward, lift your leg toward the ceiling, lifting no higher than the line of your body. Pause, then slowly lower your leg back down to the start position. Do 10 repetitions of this exercise on each leg, 3 sets once per day. Perform this exercise 2-3 days per week.

A physical therapist shows how to do a sidelying hip abduction exercise.

4. Straight Leg Raise

Lay on your back and support your neck with a pillow or neck roll. Bend 1 knee up so your foot is flat and your back is a neutral position (not arched). Keep your arms lying straight and in line with your shoulders. Straighten the other leg by tightening the muscles on the top of your thigh. Keeping your toes pointed up, lift your leg to the height of the bent knee. Pause, then slowly lower your leg back down to the start position. Do 10 repetitions of this exercise on each leg, 3 sets once per day. Perform this exercise 2-3 days per week.

A physical therapist shows how to do a straight leg raise exercise.

5. Quadruped Hydrant

Get on your hands and knees. Draw your belly button in toward your spine to engage your abdominal muscles. Keeping your knee bent, lift 1 leg out to the side. Keep your hips facing down to prevent rotation at your spine. Pause, then slowly lower your knee back down to the start position. Do 10 repetitions of this exercise on each leg, 3 sets once per day. Perform this exercise 2-3 days per week.

A physical therapist shows how to do the hydrant leg lift exercise.

Note: Make sure not to hold your breath while performing these exercises.

If any of the above exercises cause or increase your pain, stop immediately, and consult with your physical therapist.

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Read more about knee pain.

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Nascimento LR, Teixeira-Salmela LF, Souza RB, Resende RA. Hip and knee strengthening is more effective than knee strengthening alone for reducing pain and improving activity in individuals with patellofemoral pain: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2018;48(1):19–31. Article Summary on PubMed.

Dolak K, Silkman C, Medina McKeon J, Hosey RG, Lattermann C, Uhl TL. Hip strengthening prior to functional exercises reduces pain sooner than quadriceps strengthening in females with patellofemoral pain syndrome: a randomized clinical trial [Correction published in: J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2011;41(9):700]. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2011;41(8):560–570. Article Summary on PubMed.

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