3 Exercises to Help With Knee Pain

Knee pain is a very common issue for people who are new to exercise and athletes alike. In this post, Dr. Jonathan Su explores a six-minute solution to treat your knee pain at home. 

Dr. Jonathan Su, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F, C-IAYT
5-minute read
Episode #546
The Quick And Dirty

Whether you're just getting into exercise or you've been working on your fitness for a while, exercise-related knee pain can affect you. This post covers how to banish knee pain in just six minutes with the following exercises:

  • Single leg tuck
  • Bridge with alternating marches
  • Thigh roll and shake

Exercise-related knee pain is one of the most common issues that comes up for my fitness clients, regardless of their age, activity level, or fitness goals.

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Knee pain affects sedentary people who are just getting back into exercise just as much as fit people who have been exercising for a while. Not even athletes who are accustomed to pushing their bodies to the limits can escape the wrath of exercise-related knee pain.

In this post, I’m going to share a simple six-minute solution to this all too common problem that you can do right at home. But first, let’s talk more about what causes exercise-related knee pain and how to tell if this solution is right for you.

Causes of exercise-related knee pain

Believe it or not, the type of knee pain I most frequently see in my physical therapy practice is not a result of a traumatic injury such as a fall, a twist, a hard landing from a jump, or blunt force to the knee. The most common knee pain I see is a result of repetitive movements with activities such as squatting, walking, running, jumping, or stair climbing.

The most common cause of knee pain I see in my practice is day-to-day repetitive movements such as squatting, walking, running, jumping, or stair climbing.

This pain is typically located in or around the front of the knee and feels dull but it can also be sharp. Having seen thousands of cases of exercise-related knee pain, I believe it’s a result of one or more of the following:

  • Underdeveloped core muscles of the trunk and side of hip muscles (the gluteus medius) that are unable to meet the demands placed on them.
  • An over-reliance on the front of thigh muscles (the quadriceps) and an under-reliance on the back of thigh (the hamstrings) and butt (the glutes) during repetitive movements.
  • Tension in the front of thigh muscles that places undue stress on the structures of the knee.

I can spend several episodes going on and on about why this pattern of dysfunction is so common. But I’ll save you the boredom and simply say that the way we use our bodies in the modern world are more limited than they have been in the past and this results in imbalances, instabilities, inefficiencies, and ultimately, pain.

Is the 6-minute solution right for you?

Luckily, the six minute solution is here to save the day and the best part is that you can do it on your own at home for free. My clients are always surprised and amazed to see real results with this simple program in a matter of days.

To find out if this solution is right for you, ask yourself the following five statements:

  1. You have pain in or around the front of the knee with squatting, walking, running, jumping, or stair climbing that goes away as soon as you stop the activity.
  2. There’s no history of a traumatic knee injury such as a fall, a twist, a hard landing from a jump, or blunt force to the knee in the last three months.
  3. There’s no swelling, heat, or redness in the knee.
  4. You can bend and straighten the knee all the way without any issues.
  5. When you press your fingers deeply into the front of thigh muscles (the quadriceps), the thigh is more tender on the same side as the painful knee.

If these statements describe your knee pain, you’re in luck!

The 6-minute knee pain solution

All you need to reduce your knee pain is a chair with padding on the seat, a rolling pin, some floor space, and the following three exercises.

Single leg tuck

The first exercise is the single leg tuck. This exercise will strengthen your side of hip muscles, which most people usually ignore.

Start by laying on your side with the knee pain side on top. Your body should be in a straight line with your legs extended and feet stacked on top of each other. You can rest your head on your bottom arm. Next, roll your entire body forward about 45 degrees while keeping your feet stacked on top of each other. While keeping this forward roll, lift your top leg up to hip width distance (about six to eight inches) from your bottom leg. This is the starting position.

Begin by simultaneously flexing the hip and knee of your top leg forward in a tucking motion until they’re at 90 degrees. Take 3 seconds to get to the top of the movement, hold there for 3 seconds, take 3 seconds to return to the starting position, and hold there for 3 seconds while keeping your legs hip width distance apart. Work your way up to 15 reps and add ankle weights to increase the challenge.

Bridge with alternating marches

The second exercise is the bridge with alternating marches. This exercise will strengthen your core, butt, and back of thigh muscles. You’ll need the chair for this exercise.

Start by lying on your back and placing the back of both heels on the seat of the chair. Now, tighten your core muscles and dig both heels down into the chair to lift your butt as high as it will go. You should be far enough away from the chair so when your butt is lifted, your knees are bent about 90 degrees. This is the starting position.

Begin exercising by lifting one leg a few inches off the chair for three seconds while keeping your core tight and butt lifted high. Place your lifted leg back on the chair and repeat the same thing with the opposite leg. Work your way up to 15 repetitions on each side and do this exercise with your knees gradually straighter (but never completely straight) to increase the challenge.

Thigh roll and shake

The third exercise is the thigh roll and shake. This exercise will reduce the tension in your front of thigh muscles. You’ll need the rolling pin for this exercise.

Start by sitting with your back against the wall and the painful knee extended straight out in front of you. Take the rolling pin and apply downward pressure into the middle of your thigh midway between your kneecap and hip joint.

Begin rolling back and forth with the rolling pin for about 30 to 45 seconds while maintaining the downward pressure. Use short strokes and make sure to get all the way up and down and on the sides of the thigh. Spend extra time on tender spots and go a little deeper as the tenderness eases while keeping your muscles as relaxed as possible.

Now stop what you’re doing and place both hands on the muscles you’ve been rolling and give it a good shake to the left and right for about 15 seconds. This will help ease any remaining muscle tension.

Making the 6-minute solution work

I know you’re excited to get started on this so let’s talk about how to make it work. I recommend performing this routine twice daily for three weeks and then once daily for three more weeks. After that, two to three times a week for maintenance should be enough.

The best time to do this routine is right before and after your regular workouts. On days you don’t exercise, do it anytime that's convenient, just make sure the sessions are at least three hours apart.

The six-minute solution to exercise-related knee pain is a powerful tool that has worked for thousands of people regardless of age, activity level, or fitness goals. Share this gift with someone you know, try it together or on your own, and as always, let me know how you feel after you give it a try.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Dr. Jonathan Su, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F, C-IAYT

Dr. Jonathan Su is the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast. He is a physical therapist and fitness expert whose mission is to make fitness accessible for everyone. Dr. Su is author of the bestsellers Six-Minute Fitness at 60+ and Six-Minute Core Strength.

Got a question for Dr. Su? You can email him at getfitguy@quickanddirtytips.com or leave him a message at the Get-Fit Guy voicemail line at (510) 353-3104.