Knee Physical Therapy: 5 Exercises to Overcome a Knee Injury

Patient Receiving Knee Physical Therapy

You never really appreciate how much your knees do until you have knee pain. Whether you have a knee injury from a sports accident, osteoarthritis, an ACL tear or MCL sprain—or even if you’ve had knee replacement surgery, knee physical therapy can help you decrease pain, improve range of motion and strengthen your knee—if you do it right. 

NOTE: While these 5 physical therapy exercises for knee pain exercises can help you with knee pain relief and strengthening, it is very important to work directly with your physical therapist for individualized exercise plans, especially when it comes to total knee replacement exercises. Incorrect form or doing the wrong exercises for your particular knee injury can increase pain and recovery time. Doing the right exercises, the right way can help your knee get better faster. 

That said, these 5 physical therapy exercises are generally easy, safe and helpful for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL injuries) and post-knee replacement surgery. The ACL stabilizes your knee so it doesn’t wobble forward. Unfortunately, ACL injuries and tears afflict nearly 200,000 people a year, half of whom need knee surgery and subsequent ACL recovery exercises. Working with your physical therapist on any MCL or ACL exercises is important for physical therapy after knee surgery—and can prepare you before surgery too.

  1. Heel Slides

Sit on the floor, knees bent in front of you, feet on the floor, back against a wall. Slide your heel along the floor, gradually extending your knee as far as you can until it’s as straight possible without pain. Then slide your heel back towards you, gently bending your knee as far as is comfortable. Don’t force it. Start with 10 reps and gradually work to 20. Heels slides should improve circulation and reduce swelling in the knee and its supporting soft tissues.

  1. Quad Squeezes

Still seated on the floor against the wall, roll up a towel or use a foam roller and place it under your knee. Squeeze and contract your quad muscle (in your thigh) and flex your foot for about 3-5 seconds for 10 to 20 reps.

  1. Short Arc Quad Lifts

Keep the foam roller or towel under your knee for stability. Then raise your foot slowly, straightening out your knee as far as you comfortably can, squeezing your quad again. Then slowly lower your foot back down. Do not bounce or drop your foot too quickly—slow, controlled motion is important. Again, try about 10 reps and increase to 20.

  1. Straight Leg Raises

You can do this either lying flat on your back the floor with your palms down for stability, or propped up on your elbows. Bend your healthy knee to about a 45-degree angle with the foot flat on the floor. Straighten your affected leg as straight as you can, with your foot flexed, then slowly lift it until the affected knee is even with the other knee. Hold for just a few seconds, squeezing that quad muscle. Then slowly lower the leg back to the floor. Make sure all of these movements are slow and controlled—no sudden bouncing or dropping, which could make the pain worse.

You can also do this exercise while sitting in a chair. Straighten your leg with the heel on the floor and then slowly lift it until it’s parallel to the floor, then slowly lower it back down. Start with 10 reps and build up to 20.

  1. Gluteal Sets

It may sound unrelated, but physical therapy after knee surgery should also include strengthening of all the surrounding support muscles to provide extra support as you recover. This includes your glutes, which can help stabilize the back part of the leg and knee. All you do is lie flat on your stomach and squeeze your glutes together slowly and with control. Do this 10-20 times.

If you’ve had knee surgery or other knee injuries like an MCL strain, your physical therapist can guide you with gait and balance exercises and stretches to improve flexibility and range of motion too. Care First’s team of physical therapists can help you, either in the office or at home, with specifically tailored knee exercises for your situation.

Care First Rehab in Cary, NC provides on-location and clinic therapy services including physical, occupational, pediatric, speech, massage, sports injury and more. Contact Pragati Sonker at (919) 460-1921 to schedule your therapy appointment.