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The Best Exercises for Inner Knee Pain

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT December 10, 2020 0 Comments

Inner knee pain exercise

Inner knee pain is an ambiguous term that refers to any type of discomfort along the inside region of your knee. While knee joint pain can be caused by a variety of underlying issues or knee injuries, exercise for inner knee pain is a great way to reduce pain and boost overall knee health. Having strong and flexible lower legs is essential for continuing to participate in your favorite activities. Keep scrolling to learn the best inner knee pain exercises.

How Exercise Helps Inner Knee Pain

Exercise should be a normal part of your healthy lifestyle. It can boost strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, increased blood flow and endurance. Pain on the inside of the knee is often caused by existing knee injuries such as; bursitis, knee osteoarthritis, runner’s knee, MCL tear, etc. The biggest factor in gaining these benefits is making sure that you are choosing the right exercises to avoid aggravation while still maximizing your knee health.

Inner Knee Stretching Exercises

General lower body stretches are best to complete as a gentle warmup prior to exercise and can be useful immediately after an exercise program to minimize any delayed soreness. If you’re having trouble tolerating stretches, you can also try ice or heat treatment before and after your home program.

Learn About Alternating Ice & Heat for Sore Muscles

1. Inner Thigh Stretch

Use a stretch strap and lie on your back. Loop the band around the bottom of your right foot. Then, bring your toes up toward the ceiling (keeping your knee relatively straight). Stop before you feel a strong hamstring stretch and adjust your hand position so that your right hand is higher toward your foot and the left hand is lower; near the end of the strap. Lastly, let your thigh fall outward and away from the body until you feel a stretch in the inner thigh. You can let your bent left leg fall away from the body as well for counterbalance.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets. Repeat on the left side when you’re ready. This stretch should give you relief of any inner leg tension.

2. Supine Hamstring Stretch

Often, knee pain of any type will lead to tense and stiff hamstring muscles. Grab a stretch strap, towel, or belt and lie on your back with both knees bent and feet on the floor. Place the strap around the bottom of your foot. The, use your arms to guide your thigh up toward your chest. Keep the knee straight without hyperextending it. Continue moving until you feel a strong stretch in the back of your knee and thigh and hold.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

3. Side Lunge Stretch

This is a stretching and strengthening combo move. In standing, shift your weight away from the leg you want to stretch. Then, bend the weighted leg into a slight squat as you shift your butt back and stretch the opposite unweighted leg out to the side with your knee straight. You should feel a stretch in the inner thigh. To get a stronger stretch, squat deeper as you reach the straight leg sideways even further away from your body.

Hold for 20+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg if tolerated.

4. Seated Butterfly Stretch

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet together (if tolerated) to feel a stretch in the inner thighs. Make sure you keep your spine upright and in good posture throughout. To increase the stretch, you can use your hands or forearms to push the thighs further down toward the ground. Additionally, you can hinge forward at the hips and bring your chest toward your feet while keeping your low back flat. Find what’s most comfortable for you and hold.

Hold for 60+ seconds for 2-3 sets total.

Leg Exercises

Strengthening the legs often requires a more holistic approach. Although the inner knee is what is hurting, muscle imbalances within the hip and core can be causing or aggravating the issue. Thus, it’s important to incorporate a variety of moves that require full lower body coordination.

5. Seated Straight Leg Raise

Knee pain often results in quadriceps weakness- this exercise will help. Sit in a comfortable seat holding good posture with the feet flat on the floor and hip width apart. Then, tighten the top of the thigh as you lift that foot off the ground and straighten the knee (all the way if possible). Hold for an extra second with the knee straight before slowly returning to the starting position. Alternate between both legs.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each leg for 2-3 sets total. To progress, add ankle weights, increase hold time, or increase repetitions.

6. Bridge

This exercise will strengthen the butt and hamstrings to provide better lower body balance. Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Tighten your abs and squeeze your butt as you lift your low back off the ground and push your heels into the ground. Lift as high as you can tolerate without pain or arching the low back. Hold at the top of the move for 2-5 seconds before slowly returning and repeating.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for up to 3 sets total. To add simultaneous inner leg strengthening, grab a soccer ball (or something of a similar size) or towel roll and place it between your legs. Squeeze the legs slightly together as you lift up.

7. Lateral Leg Raise

This exercise strengthens the side of the hips. Weakness in this area is often one of the biggest contributing factors to medial knee pain. Lie on your side with the leg you want to strengthen on top. Bend the lower leg for balance while keeping your upper leg straight. Then, keep the core tight and use your butt muscles to lift your leg straight up towards the ceiling. Do not let the thigh come forward toward your chest. Lift as high as you can before returning to the starting position.

Repeat 10-15 times on each leg for 2-3 sets total. To progress, add ankle weights or increase repetitions. If tolerated, you can also switch to working the bottom leg. Simply straighten the bottom leg, bend the top leg with your foot flat on the ground to stabilize, and lift your bottom leg up toward the ceiling.

8.  Step Ups

Walking up steps can be hard to manage with inner knee pain. Thus, practicing good mechanics while strengthening your leg can help. Stand near a step to get started. If you are having a hard time tolerating a full step, try something lower like a foam pad first (plus a pad will further challenge your balance). Simply place one foot up on the step, followed by the other foot. Focus on keeping the knee aligned over the toes and squeezing the butt as you step up. Bring your feet back down and repeat again with the opposite foot leading.

Repeat 10 times on each leg for 2-3 sets. Progress to a higher step as tolerated. Other great lower body coordination exercises include single leg balance, lunges, and squats when you can tolerate them safely.

9. Double Knee to Chest Core Strengthening

Core strengthening is always an essential piece for a lower leg strengthening program. Without good core strength, leg strength and balance can never be optimized. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor to get started. Then, tighten the abs so that your back is flat (or nearly flat) on the floor. Hold this position as you lift both feet off the ground and bring your knees toward the chest. You should be able complete this with little to no movement in the low back without holding your breath. Return your feet to the floor with control and repeat.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. If it’s too hard, you can start with one leg at a time. Other great core strengthening options include planks and bicycle crunches.

Low Impact Aerobic Exercises

For general health and healing capabilities, it is always good to keep up with low impact aerobic exercises. Plus, if you are used to participating in higher level activities and sports but need to rest, these are great ways to stay active. Some of the best options include:

Stationary Cardio

Grab your favorite piece of cardio workout equipment to get your heart rate up. Use of an elliptical, upright bike, recumbent bike, or row machine can all get your metabolism up without significant impact on the knee. Depending on your specific knee symptoms, one machine may be more tolerable than the others. Find what works best and is most enjoyable for you. You can also do seated leg and arm movements at home if you don’t have home equipment.

Swimming

Jumping in a pool to do some lap swimming, aqua jogging, or aerobics is one of the best ways to keep moving without straining your knee. You can even incorporate knee specific strengthening exercises into your water workout that you may not be able to tolerate yet on land.

Walking

Regular walking is always a simple, easy, and effective way to keep the legs strong with minimal impact. Make sure you are walking on surfaces that are suitable for your balance (i.e. gravel, trails, rubber rice, or concrete) and that you have a reliable pair of supportive shoes. Since walking is an essential everyday movement, it’s a great way to boost your health and stay fit while reducing impact on your sore knee. Start with a time and distance you can tolerate and build from there.

Yoga for Inner Knee Pain

Practicing yoga is a great way to boost flexibility, range of motion, strength, and a general sense of well-being all at once. Since yoga poses often require coordination and strength of multiple muscles groups, it is a great way to address knee health, prevent knee injuries, and increase full body health all at once.

Try these yoga poses for flexibility.

You can attend a local yoga class, find online yoga classes, or simply add a few poses that target the lower legs to your stretching routine. Try child’s pose, cat-cow, and a butterfly stretch to start.

Exercises to Avoid with Knee Pain

To maximize your knee recovery potential, there are certain moves that you will want to avoid to prevent unnecessary aggravation initially. With time and healing, you will be able to carefully get back to all of your favorite activities. Exercises to consider avoiding include:

  • High impact exercise such as running, jumping, and other plyometrics
  • Sports that require sudden changes in direction or pivoting- such as basketball, volleyball, and football
  • Deep squats or lunges
  • Any lower leg move that makes the knee feel unstable- particularly if you notice it collapsing inward, as this can strain the patella (kneecap), meniscus, and medial collateral ligament 
  • Repetitive leg movements that can lead to overuse
  • Any exercise that causes knee pain

If you’re having trouble tolerating exercise, focus on other home treatment options first. You may also benefit from a round of physical therapy to efficiently address your knee deficits and get the best possible relief. A physical therapist can recommend a personalized home program that boosts your recovery and confidence.

More Ways to Treat Inner Knee Pain

Exercise for Inner Knee Pain Relief

Inner knee pain can leave you feeling frustrated and unable to efficiently complete your daily activities. Luckily, with a consistent home program for stretching and strengthening you can start gaining confidence in your knee while you boost it’s healing potential. It’s always important to start small with what you're comfortable completing and then progressing from there.

If you’re not sure where to start, discuss the possibilities with your doctor or physical therapist. If your symptoms are chronic, aren’t getting better after a week or two, or get progressively worse, get in touch with a trusted medical professional as soon as possible for further medical advice.

Knee Pain Products

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT



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