I used a five-move stretching routine to relieve knee pain, and the results were surprising

This short sequence helped ease my knee pain and soothe my leg muscles after a day of traveling

Man performing a stretch in a hotel room
(Image credit: Future / Harry Bullmore)

Some of us have been suffering from knee pain for so long that it's hard to remember life without it. But enough is enough. 

Sure, you can take joint supplements, but I decided to try and ease the pain with movement. So, I recruited the stretching experts at Pliability to help me with my niggling left knee, which has been playing up on and off for the last three years. 

They provided a five-move stretching routine from the app's new knee prehab pathway, designed to build resilience with a series of "short, dynamic, corrective exercises that target the structures around the joint."

The app's director of performance, Cody Mooney, says he hopes it can have a "positive impact on a common problem", reducing aggravation around the joint and increasing users' overall knee health. Me too, Cody, me too. 

How to do the Pliability stretching routine

With that in mind and dreams of pain-free knees disturbing my sleep, I geared up to take the routine for a spin. 

1. Couch stretch

Woman performing a couch stretch

(Image credit: Pliability)
  • Start on your hands and knees in front of a wall, then reach your right knee back to where the wall meets the floor.
  • If you're able, step your left foot towards your left hand so you're in a lunge position, then lift your chest so it's facing forward.
  • Hold for two minutes.
  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

2. Ankle dorsiflexion mobilization

Man performing ankle dorsiflexion mobilizations

(Image credit: Pliability)
  • Begin in a half kneeling lunge then lean forward over your front knee.
  • Place your elbows on top of your front knee once you've leaned as far forward as you can. You should feel a stretch in the back of your calf.
  • Hold for one minute, then switch sides and repeat.

3. Patellar mobilizations

Man performing patellar mobilizations

(Image credit: Pliability)
  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
  • Relax your right leg then gently move your kneecap in different directions using your thumbs and forefingers. 
  • Continue to do this for one minute, then repeat with the other kneecap. 

4. Knee flexion rotations

Man performing knee flexion rotations

(Image credit: Pliability)
  • Begin in a lunge with your left knee on the ground and your right knee up in front of you. 
  • Place your hands on your right knee and gently twist it to the right. 
  • Keep your hips square and your knee pointed towards your little toe, then lean forward. 
  • Once you've leaned as far forward as you can go, return to the starting position while gently twisting your knee inwards. 
  • Repeat this for 60 seconds, then do the same on the other side of your body. 

5. Cossaks squats

Man performing Cossaks squats

(Image credit: Pliability)
  • Stand with your feet spread wide beyond shoulder-width apart.
  • Push your hips back then bend your right knee to lower them towards your right foot, keeping your left leg straight and your chest proud.
  • Keep squatting down until you're as low as you can comfortably go, pause for a second, then return push through your right heel to the starting position. 
  • Repeat on your left leg.
  • Continue to alternate legs for three minutes. 

How did I find it?

By the time I came to take on this stretching routine, I needed it more than ever; I had just finished a 12-hour journey from Bristol in the UK to Berlin in Germany, involving a sequence of buses, trains, taxis and two flights. 

To say my legs were feeling stiff would be an understatement. What's more, I had tweaked my left knee (a problem area for me) playing padel a couple of days previously — a worthy crime for my lacklustre warm up

The first move I came to was the couch stretch, and I immediately felt it target tightness in my quadriceps (or quads for short; the muscles running down the front of the thigh).

Tight quads can be a key contributor to knee pain, so it was great to start by soothing and stretching this area. 

I found the initial stretch was quite intense, and the app's voice guidance advised me not to push it too far. So, initially, I leaned forward and kept my knee a few inches from the wall. 

However, as the timer ticked on I began to breathe and ease into the position. As my muscles loosened, I was able to lift my chest and shift my knee closer to the wall, and the stretch shifted from painful to surprisingly pleasant. 

Man performing a couch stretch

(Image credit: Pliability)

The ankle dorsiflexion mobilizations were a true test for my ankle mobility. My ankles felt incredibly tight and, under guidance from the app, I found it served me best to rock in and out of the pose. After a while, I was able to lean deeper into the stretch, and the backs of my ankles felt slightly looser by the time I had finished. 

Not only will this help with everyday life, but it should also translate to my training, helping me sink into better positions during exercises like squats — a good result all round!

In all honesty, the patellar mobilizations felt incredibly strange, with the bone slipping about underneath my thumb and forefinger. There was a noticeable difference between my "good" and "bad" knee, however, with the healthier side seemingly moving much more smoothly. 

The knee flexion rotations came next, which felt slightly similar to the ankle dorsiflexion mobilizations but offered more of a hamstring stretch. Finally, I ended with a true test of knee and ankle mobility: Cossack squats.

My first attempt was pretty ropey — on my left leg I even tumbled backwards after trying to sit too deep on top of my left foot — so I reduced my range of motion and started holding onto a nearby windowsill for support. 

As my body warmed up, I found I was able to drop my hips lower and lower, and even let go of my supportive sill. By the end of the three minutes I was sinking into an effective Cossack squat, with my feet flat on the ground and my backside mere inches from the floor. 

Would I do it again?

Without a doubt. I never miss a workout, but I've neglected my mobility for too long. And, if I want to maintain a healthy, happy and functional body, I need to change that. 

Next up for me is the full five-day pathway, as well as regular stretching and mobility session to keep my body in good working order. I may even add a bit of variety using this 15-minute yoga for mobility session too.

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.