Can’t bend your knee? Here’s what to do

Posted on March 8, 2017

(Last Updated On: May 20, 2017)

After any knee injury or surgery one of the most obvious changes is a lack of knee flexion. You have trouble bending your knee:

Knee Flexion

Besides pain and difficulty running / walking, this is often the most alarming change for people. To go from having ~120 degrees knee flexion (roughly heel to butt) to only ~90 degrees constitutes a very large percentage change in ability. While one often loses some knee extension (straightening) too, they may only lose 5-10 degrees. Not 30.

-> That said, lack of knee extension is the first priority!

The biggest mistakes ACL patients make

Help! I can’t straighten my knee!

How do we get that ability to bend the knee back?


Pain is NOT a necessity.

It’s common for a physical therapist or personal trainer to wrench the knee. “If you don’t improve to X degrees by a certain date, I’ll have to push on the knee myself.” It’s almost like they take joy in this process. There is no need to hang out with sadists, or to be masochistic in this process. You shouldn’t have to cry to improve range of motion.

In fact, trying to push through pain can make matters worse.


Bump the intensity, gently

Sometimes some intensity is needed to help push the knee in the right direction. But there is a difference between adding intensity and doing something intensely. When we have a sensitive knee, doing intense activities shouldn’t be on the docket.


Kneeling isn’t the best way

This isn’t ideal:


Credit: LexyYoga


Understanding Fluid

One of the most common mistakes during this process is treating the knee joint like muscles. While there are better and worse methods, for the most part, tug at the muscles enough and changes are going to happen. This is not true for joints. These different materials do not respond the same to stress.

Pushing on the joints without much thought can make matters worse, often causing a person frustration, making them push on the joint even harder, making things even worse, and in a negative circle we go.

Not only that, even if you do everything right stretching wise, you can get nowhere when trying to achieve full knee flexion.


The above will all be covered in How To Fully Bend Your Knee Again. Also included,

  • Using a ziploc bag to understand your knee
  • Fancier methods for swollen knees
    • Using exercise, heat, elastic and a stiff drink to your advantage.
      • How to wrap a painful knee.
    • Why pain killers can be counterproductive
  • A common mistake to avoid
  • How to self-assess your progress, and when you’ve reached 100%
  • If you don’t need the range of motion, should you try to attain it?

There is a school of thought the knee only needs what it uses. For instance, if you’re someone who is only concerned with walking and sitting, then you only need to get your knee to have the range of motion those activities entail. We tend to sit with the knees bent to 90 degrees, so if you have 90 degrees knee flexion, you’re solid.

We’ll cover why this isn’t how you should view things.

  • Q&A going over different approaches, along with some specific details on ACL surgery, brief words on knee replacement hardware considerations and meniscus surgery, and advice for kneeling again.
  • POV

For the pictures and video, largely everything is from the point of view of the person doing it. The idea here is when going through the movements you can best mirror your experience to what you see in the manual.

It’s $12:

Buy Now

After purchasing you’ll be redirected to a password with a link, which you’ll also be emailed for longterm keeping. Go to the link, enter the password, on to bending your knee again you go.

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