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Knee Tendonitis Exercises that Don't Cause Pain

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT September 17, 2020 0 Comments

Woman knee exercise

A good home program of knee tendonitis exercises is crucial for restoring strength and flexibility during the recovery process. Since pain and other tendonitis symptoms only get worse with overuse, it’s important to choose the right exercises for your condition. Keep reading to learn about the best knee tendonitis exercises. 

Strength Exercises

Knee strengthening exercises will focus on restoring coordination, balance, and proper muscle activation of the thigh muscles. This includes muscle groups like the hamstrings, adductors, and quadriceps muscles. Additionally, hip strength also plays a pivotal role in knee health.

Remember to stretch out prior to exercising.

Terminal Knee Extension

Grab a resistance band and secure to a sturdy object or doorway. While facing the band, place the loop so that it is resting on the back of the knee with moderate resistance. Then, allow your knee to be pulled forward as you come up onto the toes. Next, push the back of the knee against the band as you straighten the knee and tighten the thigh. If possible, you will rock all the way back to the heel before repeating.

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

Lateral Leg Raise

This exercise is a great option for balancing hip strength. Lie on your side with the hips stacked on top of each other and the bottom leg bent for stability. Keep the top knee and toes pointing forward as you lift your top leg up toward the ceiling and squeeze at the butt. Do not let the knee or toes point up toward the ceiling. You should feel the muscles in the side of your butt working.

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

Short Arc Quad

Lie on your back and place a medium-sized towel roll or pillow under the affected knee. Then, tighten the front of the thigh and straighten your knee as you bring your toes up toward the ceiling. Keep the back of your knee resting on the towel throughout. Hold for 3-5 seconds at the top before returning to the starting position. Repeat.

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

Other Strength Training Options

It’s important to build a varied exercise program during recovery. Try incorporating these exercises with the ones listed above.

  • Straight leg raises on your back
  • Standing ball squeezes (between the legs)
  • Mini-squats
  • Alternating lunges
  • Single leg balance
  • Leg press

Range of Motion Exercises

Knee stiffness and tendon pain affect knee range of motion and can limit your normal knee function.  Here are some basic knee range of motion exercises to effectively stretch the affected tissues.

Patellar Self-Mobilization

Start by sitting on the ground with your legs stretched in front of you. The knee cap should feel loose if the knee is straight and relaxed. Then, use both hands to push the stiff knee cap side to side, diagonally, and up and down. Mostly focus on moving side to side. This move often feels weird and awkward but will significantly improve your kneecap movement.

Push back and forth gently for 1-3 minutes, focus on staying relaxed. Do not force the move if it is painful.

Heel Slides

Lie on your back with the leg you’ll be using out straight, the other leg can be bent with the foot flat on the floor. Then, tighten the abs as you slide the heel up toward your butt as far as you can go. Stop and hold for 2-3 seconds when you feel a strong stretch in the knee before returning to the starting position. Do not let your knee wobble around, keep it pointing straight up toward the ceiling.

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

Quad Set With a Towel Roll

This is great for boosting quadriceps muscle activation while also stretching the knee into extension (straight). Lie on your back with the legs out straight. Place a small towel roll under the ankle of the leg you will be working. Then, simply tighten the top of your thigh as you push the back of your knee down toward the floor. Hold for 5-10 seconds.

Repeat for 10-15 reps for up to 3 sets on each side as tolerated.

Knee Tendonitis Rehab

Whether you receive a referral from your orthopedic doctor or go directly to them, working with a physical therapist can help expedite your recovery. Typically, physical therapy for knee tendonitis will last for 4-8 weeks with 1-3 visits per week.

At the initial visit, you will receive an in-depth evaluation to look at your knee strength, flexibility, range of motion, joint mobility, coordination with everyday movements, pain level, and any other possible concerns. With this information, you can work together to build a rehab program that boosts your knee function, offers pain relief, and helps prevent further issues in the future.

A Typical Physical Therapy Program

Here’s what to expect when working with a physical therapist for knee tendonitis.

  • Regular check-ins with your PT to help manage pain, build confidence in your knee function, and understand how to coordinate proper knee use. 
  • Initial focus will be on pain relief followed by restoring knee flexibility and range of motion. Lastly, you will build into a personalized program for strengthening.
  • Discharge from therapy feeling confident in your knee and with a long term plan for managing your knee function to keep it optimized. 

Sports and Activities

Knee tendonitis will require some rest from the activities that aggravated it initially. These are generally activities that involve higher impact (aka jumping) or deep knee flexion. Thus, if you want to heal your injury and return fully to your sports or activities, it’s best to re-initiate knee use when you’re ready with some low impact activities. These include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Recumbent biking or an elliptical machine
  • Strengthening with knee range of motion modification- focusing on slow controlled motions
  • Gentle stretching

Exercises and Activities to Avoid

When trying to recover from knee pain from patellar tendonitis, try to avoid these higher impact exercises that are usually knee flexion heavy. Continue to minimize them in your daily activities until you can do them pain-free or are cleared by your doctor or physical therapist. The goal is to be able to get back these exercises eventually, but it will take time with a focus on proper leg coordination and restoring balance. Initially, make sure to avoid these:

  • Deep lunges or squats 
  • Stair-stepper machines 
  • Leg-extension machines
  • High-impact team sports like basketball, volleyball, or soccer 
  • Distance running
  • Skiing
  • Olympic or heavy weightlifting

Benefits of Patellar Tendonitis Exercises

There are many great benefits to starting a home exercise program for jumper’s knee when the time is right. These include:

  • Increased blood flow to promote healing of the patella tendon and knee
  • Promote a safe and sustainable return to daily activities
  • Restore strength (especially of the quads) and flexibility to the knee for optimal function 
  • Pain relief
  • Quicker return to previous level of activity
  • Improved overall health and quality of life

Knee Tendonitis Exercises are often most effective when used in conjunction with the right warm-up.

Find the perfect stretches here.

Staying Safe and Active

With proper treatment options, you will be on the road to recovery with knee tendonitis in no time. If your symptoms are not getting progressively better over a few weeks you should consult your sports medicine doctor or consider scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist. If your symptoms get worse or you think there might be further complications (like a tear), seek medical advice immediately.


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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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