Many lifters experience knee pain when squatting and often feel that they have to “put up with it.” Often the problem is easily solved by examining technique issues such as foot placement or depth, but there are more serious problems at hand.
In this article, we will discuss the possible causes, solutions, and exercises for knee pain associated with squatting.
If you have knee pain when squatting, it’s crucial to determine the underlying cause before beginning any rehab or implementation of corrective exercises. The following are all possible causes of knee pain when squatting:
Tight or Inactive Hamstrings
If the hamstrings are too tight, they will force the knees to bend inward while squatting. This form fault is exacerbated when the ankles are not dorsiflexed (toes pulled towards the shins) and the feet are turned out.
Tight or Inactive Glutes
If the glutes are not active, they will often force the knees into an adducted position while squatting. To fix this, be sure that you’re engaging your glutes at all times during lifts.
This can be achieved by squeezing them throughout each lift and paying close attention to where they’re positioned during squats and deadlifts.
If you feel like they’re very far forward, it’s a sign that you should try to retract them back as much as possible before beginning your next rep.
Previous Muscle Imbalances
When doing any lower body lift, make sure you have a balanced strength between your quads and hamstrings. If the courts are more robust than the hamstrings, they will force the knee to bend inwards while squatting.
This is especially relevant for weightlifters, as many lifters may experience pain from overly strengthened front quadriceps relative to hamstring strength.
Arthritis of the knee
This is self-explanatory. If you have arthritis, your knees will hurt when squatting (if nothing else changes regarding your training).
Poor Range of Motion
If you cannot keep the tibia (shin) as vertical as possible during squats or leg presses, then it may cause the patella (knee cap) to track improperly and rub against the femur (thigh bone).
Inability to squat below parallel due to hip, ankle, or foot limitations can cause this. If you cannot flex your ankles enough for your knee to remain over your toes while squatting, it’s going to force your knees to track inward.
Prevention and How to squat Correctly
It’s essential to ensure that the problem’s causes aren’t present to avoid knee pain. This can be done by simply watching your squat technique (this applies to all lifts, really).
To squat correctly, follow these steps:
- Before descending, make sure that your feet are pointed slightly outward, with your weight on the outside of your heels.
- Make sure that you’re squeezing the glutes throughout the entire lift. If you feel like they’re very far forward during squats or deadlifts (the former of which is more relevant), then it’s a good sign that you’re not squeezing your glutes enough.
- Keep your back as vertical/neutral as possible while keeping the chest up and shoulders back.
- Keeping your tibia as vertical as possible during squats is a sign of proper form. If you can’t mark it as upright as possible, be sure to correct it before going for your next rep.
- Be sure not to let the knees collapse inward. If they do, it’s a cue that you need to focus more on bringing them outward upon descent.
- Please pay close attention to where your weight is distributed at all times, especially during squats and deadlifts (for the latter of which, be sure that it’s on the outside of your heels).
- Be sure to stop each rep at parallel, if not slightly below.
Exercises To Prevent Knee Pain When Squatting
To prevent knee pain when squatting, it’s crucial to strengthen any weak areas and stretch/warm up all tight muscles before every workout session. Following is a list of exercises that can be done to accomplish this:
- Single-Leg Squats (focus on balance)
- Leg Raises with Twist
- Toe Touch Squats with Wall Ball
- Wall Ankle Mobilization
- Patellar Tendon mobilizations (focus on retraction)
- Lunge Walks With Band Around Knees
- Supine Hip Extension / Leg Curls / Glute Bridges (only if the pain is not a result of a previous muscle imbalance)
- Iliotibial Band Mobilizations
The RICE method is the traditional method of treating injuries. People can use this to relieve pain in the knee. RICE stands for:
- Rest: This should be the first step in treating any injury.
- Ice: Ice can reduce swelling and numb the area to prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes every hour or as needed for up to an entire day after the injury.
- Compression: Wrapping a compression bandage around the injured area can reduce pain and swelling. This should be done while resting or sleeping, but not during exercise.
- Elevation: Elevating an injured area above the heart reduces blood flow to the injury, slowing down swelling and reducing or preventing pain. Do this for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours while awake.
Knee pain when squatting can occur due to any number of issues. If you’re experiencing it, be sure to try out the exercises listed above and consult a doctor if the problem does not clear up in a few days.
Although some over-the-counter medications can relieve pain in the short term, it’s important to remember that they are not a cure for knee pain when squatting.
As far as the squat itself goes, it would be best if you made sure that your feet are pointed out slightly with your weight on the outside of your heels and that you’re not letting your knees fall inwards.