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There are four simple kneecap stretches to help loosen up your knee joint. You don’t need to be a Yoga expert or even rely on your physical therapist to perform these stretches. If your kneecap is tight or if you have knee cap pain, try these 4 easy knee stretches.
First of all, how do you stretch your knee cap? Well, you don’t actually “stretch” your knee cap.
Your knee cap, also known as your patella, is a floating bone that helps protect the knee joint and give your quadriceps tendon an attachment point.
But when your knee cap locks up, this can create pain in your knee or even your quadriceps muscles. The muscles, tendons or ligaments tighten or become “fibrotic” and pinch on the nerves. This creates pain and aches in your knees… and even limits your mobility.
So let’s get your knees stretched out so you can enjoy greater mobility and less pain in your life.
As always, its best to consult your physical therapist for professional medical advice before trying any knee exercise or stretch to prevent injury.
Table of Contents
4 Kneecap Stretches for Less Joint Pain & More Knee Mobility
Below, you’ll find step by step instructions for each kneecap stretches in the sequence. In addition, under each stretch, you’ll find a helpful instructional video guide so you understand how to perform each stretch.
The first two stretches directly target the tendons of the legs. The second two stretches target the quadriceps in the legs and indirectly help loosen up the knee cap.
When combined in a series, it’s a powerful method to improve your knee health, reduce pain and improve the function of your knee.
Knee Cap Stretch 1: Kneecap Presses
This is a great kneecap mobilization technique. Lift your right leg and place your heel on a chair so your knee is straight.
Place your thumbs of both of your hands on the top part of your knee cap. Gently press the knee cap downward (inferior) toward your toes slowly and gently 5 times.
You won’t get a ton of movement. Just a few millimeters is enough to create a gentle pull in your deeper tendons of your quadriceps.
Now place your thumbs on the inside of your knee cap. Press the knee cap laterally (toward the outside) 5 times.
Again, be gentle with the movement. Now place your thumbs under your knee cap and gently press upward (superior).
Finally, perform the kneecap stretch one last time on the lateral (right side) of your knee cap and press inward (medially).
After you’ve finished your right leg, perform the stretch on your opposite leg.
Knee Cap Stretch 2: Kneecap Cupping
With this kneecap stretch, you’ll be “cupping” the knee cap with the edges of your hand. Again, make sure your leg is straight.
Now cup your hands together as if you were going to drink water out of your hands. Place the pinky side of your right hand on the outside of your right knee. Place the pinky side of your left hand on the left side of your right knee.
Apply inward pressure. Now rub the edges of your palm just under the knee cap. You can start slowly at first to get a feel for the movement but ideally, this should be a vigorous movement.
Continue to “cup” the knee cap vigorously for about 30 seconds while rotating clockwise and counterclockwise.
Now transition to your left knee and perform the same cupping motion. One of the keys to this stretch is to apply pressure just under the knee cap as you vigorously rub the edges of your hand upward and downward.
After you have completed each leg for 30 seconds, your knees should feel invigorated.
Knee Cap Stretch 3: Thigh Shaking
This isn’t directly a “kneecap stretch” but since the quadriceps is one of the most common muscles that contribute to knee cap pain, we’re including it in the series. With this stretch, you’ll gently pull your quadriceps upward and then vigorously shake it.
Why is this so effective?
Unhealthy muscle tissue is often fibrotic which means some of the fibers in the muscle are bunched together. This fibrotic tissue can impinge on nerves which causes pain and less mobility. Vigorous shaking helps to break the tissue up and loosen up tight tendons.
Shake the thigh (quadriceps) for at least 20-30 seconds on each leg.
After thigh shaking, you’ll feel like you just got a deep tissue massage.
Knee Cap Stretch 4: Thigh Plucking
Just like “thigh shaking”, thigh plucking isn’t directly related to the knee cap. However, it helps loosen up the quadriceps muscle which indirectly targets the tendon that attaches on the lower leg.
Place your right foot on a pillow ensuring your knee is straight. Now, with both hands grab as much of your thigh muscle as possible and lift up.
Now let the thigh drop back down to it’s starting position. Continue to do this same motion 10 times. You can work your way upward from the lower part of your quad to the upper part of your quad.
You’ll want to perform this plucking stretch on both thighs.
General Rules When Performing Knee Cap Stretches
1. Keep Your Knee Straight
Your knee must be in a “locked” straightened position. Why? Your knee cap floats and if you have your knee bent, the knee cap will not move. With each of the stretches, you want to create as much movement in the knee cap as possible.
The first way to position your leg is to place a pillow or rolled up towel under your heel. This will help force the knee to stay straight. The second way is to sit in a chair and place your heel on an additional chair in front of you.
You can still place a pillow under your heel since it can be uncomfortable for your heel to rest directly on the chair.
2. Be Gentle
Be gentle with yourself. You should not experience knee pain with these stretches. They are designed to create a deeper stretch in the muscles and tendons of your leg. But if you feel pain, you should stop immediately.
3. Change Takes Time
Be patient with your body. Change takes time. If you have experienced knee pain or stiffness for years, or decades, you likely won’t find immediate relief. Allow the muscles and tendons of your body to slowly stretch over time. It can take weeks or even months to see a change.
3 Benefits of Kneecap Stretching
1. Helps Reduce Pain From Knee Arthritis
The Arthritis Foundation states that stretching helps to…
Stretching is so critical to helping prevent and alleviate pain from arthritis. Whether you’ve got creaky knees, an achy back, stiff hips, or multiple problematic joints, regular stretching and range-of-motion exercises can help you feel better in many ways.
2. Helps Increase Flexibility in Knee Muscles
There are a lot of muscles that attach around the knee. Kneecap stretches help to increase flexibility and mobility of your knee.
For a lot of people, the muscles around the knee become fibrotic and unhealthy. Knee stretches help to loosen up the muscles and tendons so your knees are healthier.
3. Helps Protect the Knee From Injury
When the knee cap is frozen, it is less effective at protecting your knee. When you stretch it regularly, you help the knee cap to float more freely, thereby protecting the knee more effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions about Knee Cap Stretching
How do you loosen a tight knee cap?
You can start with the one knee that is causing your problems. Apply the above four kneecap stretches to your knee every day. If your knee cap is especially tight, try to get minimal movement at first.
Then over weeks, or even months, try to get a bit more movement. Ideally, after performing the stretches on the effected leg, switch sides so that you improve the knee cap mobility in both of your legs.
How do you relieve knee cap pain?
Knee cap pain can be cause by a number of health conditions and its often best to consult a professional before self-diagnosing. However, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) is often effective along with mobilizing the knee cap using the above stretches.
Why do I have pain at the top of my knee cap?
The tendon of the quadriceps muscle runs over the knee cap so this is often a culprit for pain on top of the knee cap. Gentle massage along with the knee cap cupping technique can help soothe pain.
However, muscle strain or weakness is also the reason a lot of people have pain on top of the knee cap. So increasing strength using knee exercises is an important regular part of your routine.
Why does the middle of my knee cap hurt?
This is often because of the same reason as top of the knee cap pain. Try to apply ice to decrease inflammation but then improve the strength of your quad and mobilize your knee.
Remember, that change takes time, Knee cap stretching isn’t a “cure” but simply a tool in your toolbox for healthy knees. You can perform each of the above stretches every day.
You can even create a morning and nightly routine using the 4 kneecap stretches.
Because each stretch is so gentle, it’s difficult to “overdue” them. But still listen to your body and shoot for improvement over time.