Improve Your Mobility: An Exercise Guide for Stiff Knees

stiffed knees

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes read

Having stiff knees can really change up your day, sometimes making it hard to move around without feeling uncomfortable. This is something a lot of people deal with. But the good news is, there are exercises you can do to help with this. These exercises can make your knees more robust and flexible, improving things.

In this article, we’re going to look at why your knees might be stiff and how you can tell. We’ll also show you some exercises that can help. Knowing what’s going on and what to do about it can make dealing with stiff knees much easier.

The Underlying Causes of Stiff Knees

Knee stiffness can stem from various factors, and understanding these is crucial for effective management. Here’s a snapshot of some typical causes:

  • Aging: Natural wear and tear on joints can result in stiffness over time.
  • Health Conditions: Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, characterized by joint inflammation, can be significant contributors.
  • Injuries or Surgical Procedures: Any injury to the knee or surgical intervention can lead to stiffness during the healing process.
  • Obesity: Extra weight puts more strain on the knees, potentially leading to increased stiffness.

By recognizing these underlying causes, we can better tailor strategies to tackle stiff knees, thereby enhancing mobility and reducing discomfort.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Stiff Knees

Recognizing the symptoms is an essential part of managing stiff knees. Here are some common symptoms to be aware of:

  • Reduced Range of Motion: Difficulty in fully bending or extending the knee joint is a common sign of stiffness.
  • Tightness: After being in one position for an extended period, you might feel tightness in the knee, making movement more difficult.
  • Crunching or Grinding Sensation: These sensations during movement can be indicative of knee stiffness.
  • Swelling: Noticeable swelling in the joint can be associated with stiffness.
  • Weather-Related Discomfort: Increased discomfort during cold or damp weather can signal knee stiffness.

Being aware of these symptoms can help you take proactive steps to manage knee stiffness effectively.

Range of Motion Exercises

Several exercises can assist in improving the range of motion in stiff knees:

1. Quad Sets

Coach Todd performing Quad Sets, an essential exercise for enhancing stiff knees.
quad set step 2
  • Starting position: Seated with the injured leg stretched in front of you (can be on the floor, couch, or bed).
  • Squeeze the quadriceps (the muscles on the top of the thigh) and try to press the back of the injured knee down toward the surface.
  • Hold for 5 seconds, then relax.
  • Repeat 10 repetitions for 3 sets.

2. Heel Slides with Rope

Coach Todd demonstrating Heel Slides with Rope, an exercise beneficial in improving knee mobility and alleviating stiffness.
heel slide with rope step 2
  • Starting position: Sitting or laying down with the injured leg in front of you (can be on the floor, couch, or bed).
  • Wrap a non-elastic strap around the foot.
  • Pull on the strap with the arms to slide the heel towards the bottom while simultaneously bending the knee.
  • Hold for 5 seconds, then return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 10 repetitions for 3 sets.

3. Heel Prop

Coach Todd engaged in the Heel Prop exercise, aimed at stretching the knee joint to counteract stiffness.
  • Start by sitting on your bed with your back supported and your legs stretched out in front of you, or you can also perform this laying down on your bed or couch. 
  • Then, place a towel under your heel so it is propped up. 
  • The next step is to relax your leg in that position while your knee extends.
  • Maintain this position for 30 seconds.
  • Perform these steps for a total of 3 sets.

Overall Strengthening Exercises

Increasing strength is also key in managing knee stiffness. The following exercises are recommended:

1. Long Arc Quad

Coach Todd guiding through the Long Arc Quad exercise, aimed at strengthening the quadriceps to combat knee stiffness
Long Arc Quad with weight step 2
  • You can perform this at home using an ankle weight (2-5 lb., as tolerated) or a resistance band tied around the ankles (light, medium, or heavy resistance).
  • Begin seated in a chair with the feet flat on the floor.
  • Kick the foot up off the floor and allow the knee to straighten fully.
  • Hold for 2 seconds, then slowly return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2 sets.
  • Perform on the opposite leg for even symmetry.

2. Standing Calf Raises

Coach Todd executing the Standing Calf Raises, an exercise that builds calf strength, contributing to overall knee flexibility.
Calf raise step 2
  • Stand facing a wall or sturdy surface for balance.
  • Place your feet hip-width apart.
  • Slowly lift your heels as high as you can and then lower them back down.
  • Repeat for 10 repetitions for 3 sets.

3. Standing Hip Lifts

Coach Todd illustrating the Standing Hip Lifts, an exercise that fortifies the hip muscles, indirectly supporting the knee and reducing stiffness.
Standing Hip Lifts 2
  • Stand tall with one hand placed on a bed or chair for support.
  • Balance on your left leg, keeping a slight bend in your knee to avoid locking it out.
  • Lead with your heel and lift your right leg out to the side, keeping your foot flexed.
  • Be sure not to lean to the left while lifting your leg.
  • Lower your leg back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat this movement 10 times only with the injured leg.
  • Do a total of 3 sets of this exercise.

4. Standing Hip Extension

Coach Todd showcasing the Standing Hip Extension, targeting the posterior hip muscles and supporting the knee in stiffness reduction.
Standing Hip Extension step 2
  • Stand tall with your hands placed on a steady surface, such as a counter, sink, or chair (without wheels), to hold onto for balance.
  • Shift your weight onto your left leg, keeping a slight bend in your left knee to avoid locking it out.
  • Keeping your toes pointed forward and your right leg straight, lift your right leg back a few inches.
  • Lower your leg back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat this movement 10 times only with the injured leg.
  • Do a total of 3 sets of this exercise.

5. Standing Hamstring Curls

Coach Todd performing the Standing Hamstring Curls, an exercise that fortifies the hamstrings, essential for knee flexibility and stiffness alleviation.
  • Use 2-3 lb. ankle weights or tie a resistance band around your ankles.
  • Stand in front of a sturdy surface, such as a countertop, for support.
  • Bend one knee, allowing your foot to kick up towards your bottom.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat this movement 10-15 times for 2-3 sets.
  • Practice this exercise on both legs.

Tips for Exercising with Knee Pain

  1. Prior to beginning your exercise routine, ensure you properly warm up to avoid injury.
  2. Always maintain proper form during exercises to maximize their effectiveness.
  3. Stop the activity immediately if you experience sharp or severe pain during exercise.
  4. Maintain a consistent exercise regimen for optimal results.
  5. Consider incorporating low-impact activities such as swimming or cycling into your routine to improve flexibility and strength without adding undue stress to your knee joint.

By understanding the causes and symptoms of knee stiffness and by incorporating these exercises into your routine, you can take proactive steps toward managing your knee health. 

Always remember to start any new exercise routine gradually and increase intensity as your comfort level and capabilities improve. Consulting a professional before beginning any new exercise program is always recommended to ensure you’re on the right path to recovery.

Wondering What's Next?

Discover 11 Easy, At-Home “Stretch Exercises” for Stronger, Pain-Free Joints (click below)

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