Aches and pains are common, especially if you exercise or have a physical job. But when that pain becomes centralized in one area, it might be time to do something about it.

One such mild to moderate pain that can be felt on the back of your knee (in the popliteal space) is called a Baker’s cyst, or popliteal cyst. These fluid-filled sacs can make standing or sitting difficult. It can also be painful when you bend your knee.

Doing a few daily exercises can help you manage a Baker’s cyst and the symptoms associated with it.

Why exercise helps treat and decrease the symptoms of a Baker’s cyst

Regular, gentle exercises can increase your range of motion and strengthen the muscles around your knees. By exercising several times per week, you can decrease some of the symptoms you may be experiencing as a result of this fluid-filled sac.

Many people with Baker’s cysts have tight and weak hamstring muscles. Your hamstring muscles are the set of three muscles in the back of your leg that span from your glutes to your knee. They’re responsible for bending and flexing the knee. When these muscles are tight or weak they can put pressure on the popliteal space where the Baker cyst is.

Exercises to help with a Baker’s cyst

Physical therapist Zachary Rethorn, PT, DPT, recommends these five exercises when dealing with the pain associated with a Baker’s cyst:

Seated hamstring stretches

How to do it:

  1. While seated, rest your heel on the floor with your knee straight.
  2. Gently lean forward until you feel a stretch behind your knee and thigh.

Why it helps: This stretch can be used to improve knee extension if limited.

Heel slide

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with knees straight.
  2. Slide the affected heel toward your buttock as you bend your knee.
  3. Hold a gentle stretch in this position and then return to original position

Why it helps: This exercise can be used to gently improve knee flexion if it is limited.

Standing calf stretch

How to do it:

  1. Start by standing close to a wall.
  2. Step forward with one foot and keep both feet pointed toward the wall.
  3. Keep the knee of your back leg straight.
  4. Lean forward toward the wall and support yourself with your arms as you allow your front knee to bend until you feel a gentle stretch along the back of your straight leg.
  5. Move closer or farther away from the wall to control the stretch of the back leg.

Why it helps: When you have a Baker’s cyst, the backside of the leg can be tight. This stretch will help release some of the tension in the lower leg.

Wall squat

How to do it:

  1. Lean against a wall or a door, so that your feet are about a foot away from you.
  2. Slide your body downward while keeping your back against the wall.
  3. Hold for three seconds, then return back to an upright position.

Why it helps: Squats help to strengthen the quadriceps muscles, which supports the knee. Strength in the lower body is essential for managing a Baker’s cyst.

Side-stepping

How to do it:

  1. Begin with a resistance band around your ankles and your knees slightly bent.
  2. Keep your weight on your heels as you slowly take a step out to the side and allow the other leg to follow without losing tension in the band.

Why it helps: This exercise strengthens the gluteal muscles, which helps stabilize your hip and knee.

Rethorn warns readers that these exercises are based on a typically presenting patient with posterior knee pain caused by a cyst. “Every individual is different and different exercises or stretches should be prescribed by an appropriate clinician based on impairments and presentation,” he adds.

Other considerations when dealing with a Baker’s cyst

In addition to the exercises listed above, Matt Bayes, MD, recommends light exercise such as walking or yoga and Pilates to help the overall strength, flexibility, and stability of the body — lending better support for the knee joint.

Bayes also says footwear choice is important when dealing with a Baker’s cyst. “Supporting a severely flat foot, or very high arch with an insert in your shoe can help your knee discomfort,” he explains. Along those same lines, Bayes says compression from a lightweight knee sleeve worn when active can help cause the cyst to reabsorb more quickly.