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Your Guide to Stiff Knee Treatment

by Patty Weasler, RN October 26, 2021 0 Comments

Woman with knee cold brace

Stiff knees can slow you down causing pain and decreased movement. Whether caused by osteoarthritis, overuse, poor flexibility, or muscle imbalances, an adequate stiff knee treatment plan usually includes stretching, exercise, compression therapy, and more. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can reduce your knee pain and loosen up any stiffness that you are experiencing in your knees. 

How to Loosen Stiff Knees

Treatment for your stiff knees will depend on the cause. If it is from a minor injury then you will need to rest your knees for some time before you begin exercises. However, if the stiffness is from arthritis then you can begin the treatments outlined below.


Tight muscles are prone to injury, so it’s especially important to stretch after you perform strengthening exercises and when you feel stiff or tight. Knee stretches are a great way to improve your range of motion and increase flexibility. Make sure to engage your thigh with a quadricep and hamstring stretch. Your lower leg will benefit from a calf stretch. Aim to stretch every day to stay loose and prevent knee stiffness.


Exercise your legs to strengthen the muscles that support your knee joint. When you have strong quadriceps and hamstrings your knee can absorb shock and put less strain on your knee. This will ultimately provide pain relief and prevent re-injury. Your exercise program needs to focus on combining upper and lower leg exercises to provide balance to your legs. If you feel unsure about how to properly strengthen your legs reach out to a physical therapist.

  • Strengthening Exercises

    Knee strengthening exercises should always begin with a simple warm-up routine to prep your muscles for movement. You can use simple exercise equipment like ankle weights or just your own body weight to strengthen your leg and thigh muscles.

  • Aerobic Exercises

    Aerobic exercise is another great treatment for stiff knees. There are plenty of low-impact options like swimming and biking to get your heart rate up without adding significant stress to your knees. Aerobic exercise is also a wonderful way to improve your energy levels and start a weight loss routine.

    Exercises for Stiff Knees

Cold Therapy

One way to manage the joint pain from stiff knees is with cold therapy. Use an ice pack or a cold bath on your knee joint for 20 minutes at a time several times a day. The cold reduces pain by interrupting the pain signal. It also will minimize swelling, inflammation, and bruising by restricting blood flow. Cold therapy should be used during the first three days after a knee injury or after a strenuous workout.

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy uses warmth from a heating pad or other source to soothe stiff knees and tense muscles. The heat draws more blood to the site, improving healing time and releasing tension. We recommend placing a heating pad over your knee for approximately 30 minutes to lessen stiffness. Don’t use heat if your knee is swollen or bruised. The warmth will draw more fluid to the area making swelling worse.

Try Alternating Hot & Cold Therapy

Compression Therapy

Compression therapy with a knee sleeve will stabilize your knee joint preventing additional injury. The compression will also help reduce swelling which can reduce your pain. Use compression whenever your knee feels unstable or you plan on strenuous activities that may put your knee at risk.

How Compression Therapy Works

Massage Relief

Massage for stiff knees is a simple treatment option that can have wonderful results. Massage encourages blood flow to the area while relieving any muscle tension and knots. Focus on your calves, the back of your thigh, and the front of the thigh. Avoid massaging over boney prominences but do massage gently over the knee.

Tips for Self Massage


A TENS unit is a small device that sends an electrical signal through wires to adhesive patches that are placed on the painful areas of your body. These electrical impulses temporarily relieve pain and can be used before an exercise session to allow you to move more easily. Combine your TENS unit with massage therapy and other treatments for better results.

How to Find the Right TENS Unit

Cortisone Shot

A cortisone shot uses a powerful steroid medication that is injected directly into the site that cause pain. The medication will reduce inflammation in the area which can get rid of knee stiffness if it’s caused by an inflammatory source. Cortisone shots are not the answer for everyone and you will need to discuss with your doctor if it is right for you.

Knee Braces

If you have had an injury that is causing your knee stiffness then a knee brace will stabilize your knee and kneecap to prevent further damage and to provide the support you need. Most knee braces are adjustable which is important when you experience changes in your knee size from swelling. Since knee braces can restrict your range of motion, if you are experiencing knee stiffness that is not related to an injury or instability then a knee brace may not be the best option for you.

Choosing the Best Knee Brace

Elevate Your Leg

With knee stiffness can come swelling and pain. Elevating your leg above the level of your heart will encourage blood and fluid to return to your heart. Lay down on a couch and place a pillow or rolled-up blanket underneath your affected, straight leg. This position will help you reduce your swelling and pain.

Maintain Healthy Weight

Your knees take the brunt of a lot of your movements and body weight, it’s so important to keep them in the best shape possible. If you carry excess weight you are putting stress and strain on your knee joints. With extra weight also comes more inflammation, which can affect your knees. Maintaining a healthy weight will not only positively affect your knees but your whole body as well.

Increase Water Intake

Your body is made up of mostly water. When you become dehydrated it will affect almost every aspect of your body. Increase your water intake if you have stiff knees. This will help lubricate your knees and flush out toxins in your body. Aim to drink enough water so that your urine is clear to light yellow.

The Benefits of Drinking Water

Start the Stiff Knee Treatment

Stiff knees are a result of arthritis, knee injuries, and increased age. But that doesn’t mean you need to live with the stiffness. There are plenty of treatment options such as exercise, stretching, compression, and physical therapy. We always recommend that you get proper medical advice from a doctor to address your concerns before you begin treatment.




Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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