Problem-Solving Stretches: Do your knees hurt when you go downstairs?

  • If you can kneel comfortably, this variation allows you to stretch both quads at once. STAFF PHOTOS/ KEVIN GUTTING

  • Above, Ginny Hamilton demonstrates The Flamingo stretch. The variation below uses a padded chair.

For the Gazette
Published: 6/17/2019 4:08:23 PM

Almost everyone is thrilled that the nice weather has finally arrived. Everyone, it seems, except for our knees. As we get out and get moving, many people find knee pain common. If your knees hurt more getting off your bike, descending from a hike or simply coming downstairs, you’ll be interested to learn how gentle thigh stretching can take the pressure off of your knees.

The muscles on top of our thighs, our quads, are notoriously strong. Whether climbing a mountain or a staircase, our quads shorten, or contract, to lift our legs. Descending a mountain or staircase requires our legs not only to straighten but to reach down to the next step. Compact, strong quads have a hard time extending themselves. When they pull on your knee joints, you may feel the resulting pain in or below your knees. Thankfully, there are simple stretches that can help.

Ask Nancy Carvahlo, age 62 of South Hadley. Carvahlo dealt with persistent knee pain for years but didn’t let it stop her from daily 2 mile walks, seasonal bike rides, and multiple yoga classes each week. Then Carvahlo started stretching her quads multiple times a day.  “It was a very slow process to get into stretching my quads,” she says. “But I kept plugging along. After about two weeks, I realized I no longer had to get out of bed to apply topical pain reliever on my knees as I had always done before. If I am not diligent with the exercises, the tightness comes right back.”

Try these gentle stretches to train your quads to be longer over time. Your knees will sing your praises.

There are many ways to stretch your quads (the muscles on the tops of your thighs). Here are three variations — use the ones that are comfortable for you. In all of these versions, aim for the stretch in the middle of your thigh, not pulling right at your knee. For these stretches to have a lasting benefit for your knees, do them 5 or 6 times each day.

The Flamingo

This quad stretch works well if it is comfortable for your knee and your shoulder. Bend your knee and grasp your foot behind you with one hand. Keep knees close together to focus the gentle stretch in the middle of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute in a gentle, comfortable stretch.

Kneeling variation: If you can kneel comfortably, kneeling position allows you to stretch both quads at once. Pad your knees with a blanket or carpeting. Lean back slightly until you feel a gentle stretch in the middle of your thighs. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute in a gentle, comfortable stretch.

Chair variation: If kneeling on the floor is uncomfortable, use a padded chair instead. Rest one shin on the seat of the chair with your knee slightly forward of the seat. Gently press your shin into the chair and stand tall to find a gentle stretch the front thigh of the bent leg. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. If you find it hard to balance, hold onto a tall chair or the wall for support, so you can focus on stretching.

Pain Specialist Ginny Hamilton studied Integrated Positional Therapy (IPT) with its founder, Lee Albert at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA. A certified yoga instructor and Reiki Master Teacher, Hamilton offers classes and private sessions in Amherst, Hadley, and South Hadley. Contact her at

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