6 Early Range of Motion Exercises for the Knee

Whether you have just injured your knee or you just had surgery, regaining knee range of motion (ROM) is one of your first goals along with managing pain and swelling. Often working on range of motion can be uncomfortable but there are many different ways to achieve goals with knee extension (straightening) and knee flexion (bending). If you’ve had surgery, make sure you understand your ROM goals as sometimes they can be limited to a specific range or recommended to progress in small intervals.

Keys to Improving Range of Motion

  • ROM exercises should be pain-free → push to where you feel discomfort but avoid going beyond that point.
  • In the beginning, start with passive movements. This means not engaging the muscles of the injured/surgical leg to work on the movement. Focus on keeping the muscles relaxed and use the other leg, props or gravity to help with the movements.
  • Swelling can limit ROM, try to manage the swelling first with ice, compression or elevation.
  • Parameters – Start with low reps several times a day and progressively increase your reps. For the exercises that have a  hold, start with what you can tolerate while relaxed and work your way up.

My 6 GO TO Range of Motion Exercises After ACL Reconstruction


1. Heel Slides on the Wall

  • Lay on your back with both feet resting against a wall.
  • Have the non-working leg at 90 degrees (hip/knee) with the foot pressed against the wall.
  • The other leg will start straight with the heel touching the wall.
  • Using the assistance of gravity, slowly allow the foot to slide down the wall to increase the bend in the knee.
  • Go as far down as you can, until a slight discomfort is felt in the knee.
  • Straighten your leg back out by sliding the foot back up the wall or hook your foot under the surgical side with the opposite leg to assist the foot back up the wall.

2. Heel Slides- Knee Flexion

  • Lay on your back, on a surface your foot can glide easily on.
  • Keep the non-working leg bent for support.
  • Slowly try to bring the heel of the working leg to your buttock. Stop and hold the bend when you feel slight discomfort.
  • Then slowly straighten your leg back down to the floor.

3. Knee Flexion on the Exercise Ball

  • Lay on your back with your feet resting on the exercise ball.
  • Using both legs, bend your knees to roll the ball towards your buttock.
  • Stop and hold the position when you feel a slight discomfort in your knee.
  • Slowly straighten your leg back out.

4. Knee Flexion Prone with Strap

  • Wrap a strap or band around your ankle.
  • Lay on your stomach and using the strap, bring your heel towards your buttock.
  • This will pull the  leg further into a knee bend.
  • Repeat this movement as needed.



5. Prolonged Knee Extension

  • Place a rolled towel under your ankle while seated or lying on your back. This raises your leg with nothing behind your knee.
  • You will feel a stretch on your hamstrings and behind your knee that may feel uncomfortable. Try to relax in this position.

6. Assisted Knee Extension Seated

  • Sit in a chair with your thighs supported and feet hovering off the floor.
  • Place the foot of the non-operated leg behind the operated leg.
  • Use the non-operated leg to lift the operated leg up.
  • Go as high as tolerated and bring the leg back down in a controlled manner.

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