Can Exercise Help Knee Pain?

It doesn’t matter whether you are an experienced athlete, just starting a new exercise routine, or fall somewhere in the middle; knee issues can be limiting, painful and frustrating. 

You may think it’s best to rest your knees and take it easy, as exercise will only increase the pain. However, the opposite is actually true.  Not moving your knees can actually make things worse, causing your knees to stiffen and thus worsening the pain (1).  Knee pain, whether it is due to arthritis, an injury, overuse, or inflammation, can be soothed and even improved by simple stretches and exercise.

If you have knee pain it’s a good idea to focus on strength, flexibility, and low impact cardio. If you have serious knee issues (ie. arthritis, bursitis, torn meniscus, or sprained ligaments), be sure to consult your doctor first before starting a new exercise routine. And always listen to your body- don’t push it and stop if you feel pain.  

Some strengthening exercises for knee pain include:

  1. Assisted Squats- Using a Stability Ball or TRX band, squat until your quads are parallel to the floor to turn on your quad, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles and to strengthen your knees. 
  2. Hamstring curls- This exercise can be done many ways, but the intention is the same- to strengthen the hamstrings and glutes in order to strengthen the knees.
  3. Side leg raises (we know these as Jane)- This strengthens the muscles on the outside of your legs, the hip abductor muscles. These muscles connect directly to the outside of the knee and play a big part in keeping the knee strong. 
  4. Prone leg raises (or Superman)- Strengthens the back body muscles, specifically the hamstrings and glutes. 
  5. Core exercises- Many core exercises such as leg raises, bicycles, boat pose, and others target not only the abdominals muscles, but also the quads and the hip flexors. When you strengthen the hip flexors and the quads, the knees benefit as well. A strong core also keeps us balanced, which plays a large role in keeping knees strong (2). 
  6. Single leg exercises- Single leg box ups, pistol squats, single leg calf raises, etc. are all great for strengthening the muscles around the knees.

Decreasing knee pain is all about strength training using proper body mechanics. When we strengthen our muscles using correct alignment and form, we promote optimal balance, body function, and posture thus decreasing pain.  Furthermore, overall knee pain should dissipate by activating the Posterior Chain Muscles: the glutes, hamstrings, calves, erector spine (muscles that support the vertebrae), and lattisimus dorsi (the largest muscles in the back).  So, make sure to strengthen your legs, core, and back body! If you are uncertain how to do any of these above exercises, seek out a Personal Trainer or pop into a strength training class to learn more.

Stretching, yoga asana, foam rolling, and myofascial release exercises are more great ways to combat issues in the knees. A few easy stretches that can help lesson knee pain are the quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch, calf stretch and many hip flexor stretches, such as half pigeon or figure four. Really, any stretches for your lower body (and core) are going to help to relax your knees and give you more range of motion. 

Using a foam roller or a lacrosse ball on sore or tired muscles is also a great way increase joint range of motion, decrease fatigue and soreness after exercise, and help muscle performance. Rolling out your glutes, quads, hamstrings, back, and shoulder muscles with a foam roller not only feels amazing, but it also does wonders for your skin and its underlying tissues. It gives your muscles a much needed massage, improves circulation, and relieves stress. With a lacrosse or tennis ball, simply place the ball under a sore or tight muscle and use your body weight to put pressure on the ball. Don’t move the ball around once it is in place or it may cause bruising. Just hold it on the sore muscle for 30-40 seconds or until you feel some relief. 

In her Healthline article, Natasha Freutel writes, “Tight fascia can pull the body out of alignment and increase pressure on muscles and joints, causing pain.”  With any stretching and muscle releasing techniques, the goal is to stretch and loosen the fascia so the underlying tissue can move freely (3).

Pick up a lacrosse ball or small foam roller to keep at home or to throw in your suitcase when you travel. These are simple and easy tools to have on hand that can help relieve pain and improve overall function in not only your knees, but any sore or tired muscles (4). If you are unsure how to stretch or use these tools properly, sign up for a yoga class or come into Wright Training to get proper instruction!

Low impact exercises are another good choice for those with knee pain. Anything low impact that doesn’t cause pain is generally considered safe. On the other hand, exercises that involve twisting of the knee, sudden movement, or are high impact, are not a good idea. Some great low impact exercise ideas are biking, swimming or swim aerobics, walking and yoga. 

The muscles in and around the knee may be weak or tight and need a mixture of flexibility and strengthening exercises to bring them back into balance. The quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus muscles, iliotibial bands (muscles along the outside of the leg), gastrocnemius (one of the calf muscles), and adductors (inner thigh muscles) all play a big part in the overall health of the knee (5). The hips and core muscles can also have an affect on the knees. Everything is connected and if one muscle is overly tight or excessively strong or weak, it may impact the way the knee moves and feels. 

If you have knee pain that lasts for a couple of weeks and that doesn’t stop when you exercise or when you rest, consult a specialist. There is a difference between discomfort and pain. A deep stretch or an intense workout can be uncomfortable, and worthwhile to push through it to the other side of the discomfort. But pushing through pain can make things worse instead of better. 

Just because you have knee injuries definitely does not mean that you can’t exercise. It only means that you may have to slow down or tailor your workouts for a time. It could be time to give yoga, weight lifting, or another form of low impact exercise a try; you may be happily surprised with the outcome. 

1) Lindberg, Sara. “10 Exercises to Help Relieve Knee Pain” Healthline, 31 January 2024,

2) Lindberg, Sara. “10 Exercises to Help Relieve Knee Pain” Healthline, 31 January 2024,

3) Freutel, Natasha. “How to Perform a Lacrosse Ball Massage on Sore Muscles” Healthline, 19, December, 2016,

4)  Freutel, Natasha. “How to Perform a Lacrosse Ball Massage on Sore Muscles” Healthline, 19, December, 2016,

5)Baptiste-Mbadiwe, Kimberly. “The Best Types of Exercise for Sore Knees” HSS Fitness, 9 January 2023, 

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