Knee Pain: Simple Exercises to Help

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If you’re experiencing knee pain, it might surprise you to learn that strengthening your hips can help! Whether you’re considering surgery or opting for a more conservative approach make sure hip strengthening is part of your plan. There’s a strong relationship between hip strength and knee pain. Current studies show that patients who strengthened their hips prior to knee surgery have better outcomes and less pain. Your physical therapist may recommend exercises that will strengthen your hip abductors (gluteus medius) and hip extensors (gluteus maximus).

Why focus on muscles that are so far from your knees?

When you walk, the position of the knee is strongly impacted by the gluteus medius. During gait, gluteus maximus and medius help prevent the pelvis from “dropping” during the stance phase of gait. If these muscles are weak, there is a momentary hip/pelvis drop that leads to the knee diving in towards the other knee. This leads to compression of the kneecap, which causes pain.

By strengthening your hips, you can make sure you’re not putting unnecessary strain on your knees. There are 3 simple exercises you can do to help strengthen your hips: clam shells, side lying straight leg raise, and bridges.

Clam Shells

Michael demonstrating clam shell exercise to strengthen hips.

Clams shells target the hip external rotators. Begin the exercise lying on either side, then bend your knees and hips. While keeping your hips and knees bent at the same angle, slowly lift your top-side leg away from the bottom-side leg. Lift your leg up until your hips and upper body begin to roll backwards. Once this happens, stop the movement and slowly lower your leg back to the starting position. Make sure to keep your ankles together throughout the entire movement.

Side Lying Straight Leg Raise

Michael demonstrating the side lying straight leg raise to strengthen hips.

Straight leg raise abductions are another great exercise to address the relationship between hip strength and knee pain.

Start by laying on your side. Bend your bottom leg while keeping the top leg straight. Your top leg should be in line with your torso. Next, raise your top leg up off the table and back down slowly. Keep the outside of your foot flat and parallel to the ceiling. You should feel the muscle in your outer hip working.


Michael demonstrating the bridge exercise to strengthen hips.

Bridges target your hip extensors. Begin the exercise by lying on your back. Next, tighten your lower abdominal muscles, squeeze your buttocks, and then raise your buttocks off the floor/bed. Make sure to keep your arms straight at your sides.

If you have additional questions or need further advice, give us a call. Our physical therapists are here to help you!


Hinman, Rana S., et al. “Hip Muscle Weakness in Individuals with Medial Knee Osteoarthritis.” Arthritis Care & Research, vol. 62, no. 8, 2010, pp. 1190–1193., doi:10.1002/acr.20199.

Kim, Eun-Kyung. “The Effect of Gluteus Medius Strengthening on the Knee Joint Function Score and Pain in Meniscal Surgery Patients.” Journal of Physical Therapy Science, vol. 28, no. 10, 2016, pp. 2751–2753., doi:10.1589/jpts.28.2751.

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