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Knee Bursitis Exercises You Can Do At Home

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT September 04, 2020 0 Comments

Running with knee brace

Choosing the right stretches and exercises for knee bursitis is crucial when building an exercise program for recovery. Check out some of the options listed below to restore knee function and get back to living a normal life.


The muscles and tissues around the knee joint typically get quite stiff with bursitis. Addressing the right problem areas can give you some relief and improve knee function too.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Sit on the edge of a chair with the leg you want to stretch out straight. Then, keep the back relatively straight as you lean your trunk forward over your thighs. Shift your weight until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg and hold.

Hold for 30-60 seconds for 2-3 times a day on each leg.

Stomach Quad Stretch

Lie on your stomach and tighten your abs. Use your hand or a stretch strap to reach your foot. To stretch your right quadricep muscle, grab your ankle while keeping the toes pointed. Then, bend the knee as you bring your heel toward your butt. Stop when you feel a strong stretch in the front thigh muscles. Do not let your back arch and stay relaxed. You may need to place a small pillow or towel under the knee to decrease pressure on any inflamed bursae.

Hold for 30-60 seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Calf Stretch

Sit on the floor with both of your legs stretched out in front of you. Wrap a belt or stretching strap around the ball of your foot and secure the ends with both hands. While keeping a good upright posture, pull the toes back toward the shin until you feel a stretch in the back of the calf.

Hold for 20-30 seconds for up to 5 sets on each leg. Alternatively, you can stand in a lunge position to get a similar stretch.

Standing ITB Stretch

The iliotibial band, or ITB band, is notoriously tight with knee injuries. To stretch it, cross the leg you want to stretch behind the other thigh. Then, keeping the back straight as you bend down and reach toward your toes, touching them if possible. Stop when you feel a stretch in the side of the leg. Alternatively, with the legs in the same position, you can reach with your arm and lean to the opposite side to achieve a gentler stretch in the side of the thigh.

Hold 30-60 seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Prayer Stretch

This is a great full-body stretch that allows you to focus on knee flexibility. Start by getting on all fours. Then, sit back onto your feet as you bend the knees and hips and bring your chest toward your thighs. You can put a cushion or towel on your calves to support the knees if needed. Keep your arms stretched out in front of you and relax into the stretch. You should feel a stretch in the arms, upper back, lower back, knees and butt.

Hold 60+ seconds for 2-3 sets total.


With knee pain and swelling, one of the primary problem areas is typically the quadriceps muscles. This knee stabilizing muscle has trouble properly activating and coordinating movement when there is pain and stiffness present. Thus, a focus on thigh strengthening exercises is key. Start at a low level and build from there.

Quad set

Sit on the floor with your legs out straight. You can give yourself a target for this exercise by placing a small rolled towel or pillow under the knee to squish. You will then simply push the back of the knee down toward the floor as you tighten the thigh and hold for 5-10 seconds. With a knee injury, this exercise can feel wobbly and hard to accomplish at first. Focus first on getting a strong muscle contraction in the front of the thigh before proceeding with any other strength exercises.

Hold for 5-10 seconds each repetition for up to 15 repetitions, repeat for 2-3 sets.

Heel Slides

Lie on your back with both legs out straight and resting on the ground. Then, keep the abs tight as you slide one heel up toward your butt. Go as far as you can and hold for 2-3 seconds before returning back to the starting position with control. If the knee is stiff, you may have to start with a smaller range and build toward 90 degrees of knee flexion.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions on one side and then switch to the other side. Repeat for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Straight Leg Raise

Lie on your back with the leg you will be targeting out straight and resting on the floor. The opposite leg will be bent with the foot flat on the floor. Then, tighten the abs and the front of your targeted thigh (just like the quad set above) before lifting the entire leg up toward the ceiling. Keep the knee straight and lift the leg until it’s parallel with the other bent thigh (if possible).

Repeat for 10-15 times for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Side-Lying Hip Abduction

Lie on your side with your hips stacked on top of each other and perpendicular to the floor. Keep your bottom knee bent for support. Then, straighten the upper leg with the toes and kneecap pointing forward. Lift the entire upper leg up toward the ceiling as you squeeze the butt. Keep the motion slow and controlled.

Repeat 15-20 times for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Progression: Ball Squats

Place an exercise ball between the wall and the small of your back to start. Have the feet shoulder-width apart and feet 6-12 inches in front of your body. Then, slowly lower your body down toward the ground as far as is comfortable while completing a squat. The ball will roll across the back as you move. Start with a small range and then progress. Don’t let the knees collapse inward and keep your weight in your heels.

Repeat 10-15 reps for 2-3 sets.

How You’ll Benefit

As your knee heels, having a balanced home program will help you recovery optimally and as quickly as possible. Here are some of the benefits you can expect from having a home exercise program:

  • Improved pain relief with less reliance on pain medications
  • Better welling management
  • Increased blood flow to injured tissues for better healing
  • Restoration of tissue flexibility for better knee function
  • Proper muscle strength for endurance with daily activity
  • Better coordination and muscle balance in the lower leg
  • Improved overall quality of life

Considering Physical Therapy?

A physical therapist (PT) is trained to recognize bad movement patterns affecting your overall body function. In an exam, they can quickly help you identify deficits affecting your knee function that you can start addressing immediately in appropriate phases. With the help of a movement expert, you can feel confident in your treatment program.

Goals of Physical Therapy

Here are treatments and goals that a PT will typically help you word towards.

  • Pain relief
  • Decrease knee stiffness
  • Build knee strength
  • Ensure carry-over to daily activities
  • Maintain and feel your best! Keep up with a program 1-2 times per week indefinitely.

Stretching and Exercise Tips

As you get started and progress with an exercise program, keep these tips in mind:

  • Avoid high-impact exercises initially- start with less aggravating low-grade exercises
  • Avoid direct pressure to the knee to prevent excessive bursa swelling and further injury
  • Always focus on form with your program. The knees should be aligned with no feelings of instability, giving way, or inward collapsing.
  • Let your symptoms of knee pain and your ability to coordinate the knee guide where you should start, how to modify, and when to progress your program.

Keeping Muscles Healthy During Exercise

An exercise program that promotes leg strength, coordination, and flexibility is ideal for maintaining a high quality of life. The exercises we just covered are a great place to start. With consistency, you can expect to make progress and heal.

If you are ever unsure of where to start with your program, it is always helpful to seek medical advice from your orthopaedic doctor or a physical therapist. Additionally, if your symptoms aren’t improving within a few weeks or become severe, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider as soon as possible before it significantly affects your quality of life.




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

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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