The 3 Keys to Stop Knee Pain When Squatting

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Squatting is a part of every day life. Whether you are squatting to pick up your grand child, dropped your shampoo in the shower or simply standing up after gardening… we all squat every day.

But what happens when squatting causes knee pain?

Should I continue to squat when I have an injury? Can squats damage my knees? Are there deeper health conditions or underlying problems going on?

All great questions.

In this article, we’ll dive into the reasons people have knee pain while squatting along with 3 keys to prevent knee pain when squatting. If you stay consistent with these techniques, you’ll likely feel more relief and soon be able to squat without pain.

What is the Cause of Knee Pain When Squatting?

question mark for knee pain when squatting

There are numerous reasons squats can cause knee pain including; osteoarthritis, sprains or injuries, improper form and others.

It can be challenging to self-diagnose exactly why your knees are hurting when squatting without a team of wellness professionals to help treat the underlying cause.

However, thankfully there are some home-based techniques that can help with pain management and even help stop the pain.

What’s the Best Way to Get Rid of Knee Pain From Squatting?

If you’re experiencing knee pain when squatting, the best way to get rid of the pain is to take a multi-tiered approach.

There is no “one solution” that will miraculously wipe away all knee irritation. Especially, if you are trying to find a natural solution from home.

Thankfully, we’ve broken down a general solution into 3 main categories. We call these the 3 keys to prevent knee pain when squatting.

best way of get rid of knee pain

They are (1) Proper form when squatting, (2) Knee Stretching and (3) Knee Strength exercises.

When you add the 3 keys into your pain-relief arsenal, you have some powerful weapons to help reduce pain, increase strength and improve functioning while squatting.

3 Keys to Prevent Knee Pain When Squatting

Key 1 – Proper Form: How to Position Your Body To Prevent Knee Pain While Squatting

Proper form is essential when squatting. Many people have avoided physical activity for years, or even decades. This likely has caused muscle weakness in the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. So when you try to squat, your body compensates in unusual ways and form is compromised.

So the first step is to learn some important tips to remember while squatting so you avoid any compensation and prevent future injury.

Tip 1: Sit Back Into Your Heels

The first tip is to sit back in your heels when you squat. For example, you start in a standing position. When you begin to drop down, make sure your weight distribution is more toward your heels.

stop knee pain with by sitting back into your heal

Why is this important? When your weight is centered over your heels, the weight is transferred into the ground using the natural anatomical structure of your body.

If your weight is too far forward over your toes, this puts a lot of strain on the muscles if your lower leg anterior tibialis and calf) to stabilize your ankle.

Tip 2: Keep Your Upper Body Upright

While you squat, make sure your upper body is staying upright. A lot of people have poor flexibility in their hips and low back.

So when they go to squat, they tend to bend forward which shifts your weight forward and creates misalignment and added stress on your hips, knees and ankles.

keep your upper back straight

Tip 3: Drive Outward with Your Knees

drive outward with your knee

This is my favorite tip because a lot of people do not exercise regularly and have weakness in their legs. So when you squat down, make sure you are driving your knees outward instead of letting your knees buckle inward.

When your knees are driving outward, you create a better base for your weight to transfer to the ground. If your knees buckle inward, your knees have to strain to keep your body upward.

The above 3 tips are the ideal squat form and should help if you are experiencing pain when squatting. In fact, peer reviewed studies show that just by keeping in mind these “form tips”, you can experience less knee pain.

But there’s much more to treating the underlying condition than just good form. So let’s start stretching out those tight knees.

Key 2 – Knee Stretching: 3 Stretches To Help Prevent Knee Pain While Squatting

As mentioned above, you may suffer from a tight low back, hip, knees or ankles… which can all contribute to knee pain.

Stretch 1: Seated Knee to Chest – Hold for 30 seconds

The first stretch is called the Seated Knee to Chest Stretch. This stretch targets the low back and hips. It’s a great, easy stretch to perform while watching television or by your bedside before going to sleep.

seated knee to chest exercise for knee pain

Sit in a chair with your feet shoulder width. Make sure your back is not resting completely against the back of the chair but you are sitting upright.

Lift one leg up toward your chest while grabbing under the thigh or knee. Placing your hands on the hamstring or under the knee will help prevent additional strain on your knee as you pull your leg toward your chest.

If you have additional flexibility, you may grab the lower leg and pull upward for a deeper stretch but stop if you feel pain in the knee.

Hold the knee to the chest for 20-30 seconds.

You’ll feel the stretch in your lower back as well as your hips. Make sure to switch sides after you complete 30 seconds. Now that we have the hips and low back stretched out, let’s stand up and stretch the quads.

Stretch 2: Standing Quad Stretch – hold for 30 seconds

Stretching the quadriceps muscle (the muscle on the top part of the thigh) is one of the most important muscles to stretch. Oftentimes, people have tight quads which create tracking issues with the patella and creates squatting knee pain.

Yes, the leg muscles are that important and keeping the healthy and flexibile is essential to staying pain free. So here’s how to perform the standing quad stretch.

standing quad stretch for knee pain

Stand up next to a chair or wall. Place one hand on the wall for balance.

Lift your lower heel toward your butt and grab the ankle with the same side hand. Gently pull the heel toward the butt for an additional stretch. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.

Easier Bed Modification for the Standing Quad Stretch
bed modification for quad stretch

Sometimes, its difficult to bring your heel up to your butt, especially if you are in your later years. An easier modification is to simply place your leg on a bed so your muscles are in a resting position.

Then reach down to grab your ankle, then pull your ankle up toward your butt thereby getting the quad stretch.

Why is this easier? Because you are not engaging the muscles around your hip to lift your leg up.

Make sure you are holding on to a sturdy chair for balance and to prevent falls. This easier modification creates less pressure on your hip because your leg is in a relaxed position.

Stretch 3: Foot Alphabets

The last joint that can limit proper form when squatting and cause pain in your knees is your ankle. A lot of popular articles simple suggest to stretch out the calves. Yet this is not enough.

Why?

Think about your ankles as you squat. When you go through a full range of motion, you are forcing your ankles to work as tremendous stabilizers for your entire body.

So simply stretching your calves, although good, is not the best way to improve mobility and control in your ankles while squatting.

We commend Foot Alphabets to increase mobility of your ankle joints.

Sit in a chair with your feet shoulder width. Lift one leg up so your heel is about 6 inches off the floor. Now begin to trace the alphabet with your toes starting with A, then B, all the way to Z.

foot alphabets

Don’t worry if no one would be able to understand which letter you are tracing. The stretch is designed to improve ankle mobility so you squat correctly and prevent knee pain.

Key 3 – Knee Strengthening: 2 Strength Exercises To Stop Knee Pain When Squatting

Changing your squat form and improving flexibility through stretching will definitely help prevent knee pain in your daily life. When you add the third key, Knee Strengthening, you will likely see less pain within several weeks or even sooner. Below are two knee strengthening exercises that are extremely important.

Exercise 1: Dynamic squat Holds – 10 seconds (3 reps)

The above exercise is a combination of isometric (no-movement) and isotonic (movement) exercises. It’s great for anyone with a nagging knee injury because it’s gentle but effective.

dynamic squat holds | coach todd
  • Start off in a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Begin to squat down using the proper form mentioned above.
  • Lower only a few inches down. Your butt should lower only 3-6 inches. No more.
  • Now hold this position for 10 seconds. Remember to drive your knees outward.

The reason you only drop a few inches is because you are limiting the range of motion and decreasing the amount of stress on the ligaments, tendons and muscles in your legs. Yet you are still improving the overall strength and mobility.

Now for the second set, drop down a little bit lower. Don’t try to get a lot lower. Just increase the range of motion by a small degree. Hold the position for about 10 seconds.

Finally for the third set, lower about an inch or two deeper. Again, your goal is to not get “low”. It’s just to get a bit lower than the last set.

After three sets, you’re done. Continue this exercise 3-4X per week. Over weeks, you can work on increasing the range of motion but be very gentle with it.

Modification: Wall Squats

If the above Dynamic Holds exercise is too much, the Arthritis foundation recommends wall squats which is a great substitute.

Exercise 2: Seated Outward Presses – 10 seconds (5 Reps)

Remember, when we mentioned that a lot of people have muscle weakness and their knees tend to buckle when squatting? Well, this exercise will naturally help to teach your body proper alignment when squatting.

Sit in a chair with your feet shoulder width apart. Place your hands on both of the outer sides of your knees. Press your knees against your hands as hard as you can for about 10 seconds.

Rest for a few seconds then begin the exercise again for 5 sets total. This exercise helps strengthen the abductor muscles of your legs and helps you drive your knees outward while squatting.

coach todd performing seated outward presses

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do knee sleeves help with knee pain while squatting?

Yes, knee sleeves help provide additional support for the kneecap while squatting and helps reduce inflammation. You can find a complete guide on using a knee sleeve here.

Can squatting too deep cause knee pain?

Yes. When you go through a squatting motion, your quadriceps muscles are stretched. So if your quads aren’t healthy, inflamed, or have fibrotic tissue in them, this stretching can cause a lot of stress on the tendons and cause pain.

That’s why the Dynamic Squat Holds exercise is so important because you improve mobility and strength in a limited range of motion. So over time, you can get deeper into the squat without pain.

Should I stop squatting if I have knee pain?

It really depends on the amount of knee pain. If you have a lot of knee pain, you may want to explore nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relievers and/or visiting your primary care physician.

Can squats damage your knees?

If your knees are healthy, squats don’t damage your knees. If your patella is not tracking properly or you have inflammation in your knees… squats can cause further irritation and long term damage.

So it’s important to improve the overall health of your muscles, tendons and ligaments in your knees so you can still squat while protecting your knees.

Can tight hamstrings cause knee pain while squatting?

The hamstring is a collection of three muscles on the back of the thigh. They run from the butt muscle all the way down just below the knee (on the backside).

When the hamstrings become especially tight, it can pull the knee out of alignment during movement patterns like squatting. This decreases overall health of the knee and can cause knee pain.

Does Patellofemoral pain syndrome cause knee pain while squatting?

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is also known as runner’s knee or jumper’s knee, It’s associated with pain by the kneecap and in the front part of the knee. So squatting can be especially difficult.

Wondering What's Next?

Discover 11 Easy, At-Home “Stretch Exercises” for Stronger, Pain-Free Joints (click below)

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