Pain-free Squatting: Tips for Navigating Knee Pain

Estimated  minute read

The squat is one of the most effective lower body exercises that target multiple muscle groups. However, for some people, knee pain can be a common and frustrating issue when performing squats. If you're someone who experiences knee pain during squats, don't worry—there are steps you can take to alleviate the discomfort and continue your squatting journey pain-free. This article will explore various strategies and techniques to help you navigate knee pain and enjoy a pain-free squatting experience.

Causes of Knee Pain When Squatting

Load management (over-training and/or inadequate recovery)

Before we delve into the solutions, it's crucial to understand the potential causes of knee pain during squats. Like many musculoskeletal injuries, a primary cause of pain is improper load management.  May begin an exercise program by simply doing too much. Whether that is repetitions or weight chosen. Overloading your tissues too quickly is a surefire way to increase your chances of pain and injury. A simple way to determine if you are doing too much too quickly is to pay attention to pain.  While a little pain with activity is rarely a sign of tissue damage, activity-induced soreness should be gone within 1 to 24 hours post-activity. Sometimes post activity soreness cannot be avoided, for example, when you begin a new exercise program, you may find soreness starts to develop 24 to 72 hours post-exercise.  This type of soreness is referred to as delayed muscle soreness or DOMS.  Contrary to popular belief, DOMS is not due to an increase in lactic acid in your muscles, rather it is a side-effect of the repair process of microscopic muscle damage. Regular exercise with a gradual increase in intensity is a great way to minimize DOMS. 

Improper form?

Good form and technique can help make your exercise more efficient and likely decrease your risk for injury.  However, there can be a lot of variability in how our bodies move and perform certain exercises. As long as you are not on the “extremes” of any movement pattern, you’ll likely be o.k. If you are recovering from injury, you’ll likely want to pay more special attention to the form of certain 

Weak Supporting Muscles

Another common factor contributing to knee pain during squats may be weak supporting muscles, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. These muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the knee joint. If your training volumes exceed the capacity of these muscles, it can lead to excessive stress on the knee joint, causing discomfort or pain.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Furthermore, pre-existing conditions like osteoarthritis or previous knee injuries can also contribute to knee pain during squats. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects the cartilage in the knee, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Previous knee injuries, such as ligament tears or meniscus damage, can weaken the knee joint and make it more susceptible to pain during squatting movements.

Read our blog about knee osteoarthritis and what you can do about it.

Body weight

An increased body weight can place additional load and stress on the back, hip, and knee joints. If you are overweight, a reduction in 5-10% of overall body mass can result in significant improvements in knee joint function while limiting knee joint pain. If you have questions about weight reduction strategies, speak to REP’s very own dietitian.

Strategies for Pain-free Squatting

It's important to note that everyone's body is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it's crucial to listen to your body, seek professional advice, and choose the strategies that best suit your situation. Consulting with a qualified fitness professional or physical therapist can help assess your needs and provide personalized workouts and recommendations to address knee pain during squats.

Read our blog on workout injuries.

Strengthening Supporting Muscles

Additionally, incorporating strengthening exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes outside of a squatting motion can help strengthen these muscles and provide better support for the knee joint. Exercises such as hamstring curls, knee extensions, leg presses and calf raises can be beneficial in improving the overall stability and strength of the lower body. More advanced individuals may also choose to incorporate single-leg strengthening exercises, such as lunging and the Bulgarian split squat.

Squat Technique

Modifying the squatting technique can also help reduce knee pain. For individuals with knee issues, performing squats with a wider stance or using a box squat or bench to limit the depth of the squat can help decrease the stress on the knee joint. Elevating your heels slightly may also allow you to perform a deeper squat if ankle mobility is an issue for you.  Most importantly, be sure to gradually increase the depth and intensity of your squat over time to allow your body to adapt to increased loads and stress.

Assessing Your Squatting Form

Pay close attention to your joint alignment, especially your knees and ankles. Generally, your knees should track in line with your toes (however in some instances this may not always be the case). Your body weight should be evenly distributed across your entire foot.  If you are unsure where to begin, consider consulting with one of REP Physio’s trainers or physiotherapists.

Gradual Progression in Squat Intensity

One common mistake that can lead to knee pain is trying to progress too quickly in squat intensity. It's important to allow your body enough time to adapt and build strength. Gradually increasing the resistance or depth of your squats over time can help prevent knee pain. Remember, progress is a journey, and patience is key. By giving your muscles and joints time to adapt, you can significantly decrease the risk of knee pain during squats.

Warm-Up and Mobility Exercises

Before your squatting session, implementing a thorough warm-up routine can go a long way in preparing your muscles and joints for the demands of the exercise. Dynamic stretches and light cardiovascular activity for a few minutes is a great option to better prepare your body for your workout.

Pain-free Squatting Recovery Techniques

Knee pain after squats can be frustrating and can hinder your progress. Implementing post-squat recovery techniques can help reduce discomfort and facilitate muscle recovery. Be sure to record your reps and sets for your squatting workout.  Are you in pain for more than 24 hours? If so, decrease your reps and sets and/or squat depth for the next workout to better meet your tissue capacity. Allow for adequate recovery before exercising the same muscle group(s). Icing the knees can help with pain management, as can gentle stretching.

Consulting with a Fitness Professional

If you're struggling with persistent knee pain during squats, seeking the guidance of a fitness professional at REP Physio can be highly beneficial. They can evaluate your unique situation, provide personalized advice, and suggest modifications, squat variations or alternative exercises to help you achieve a pain-free squatting experience.

Enjoying Pain-free Squatting

Dealing with knee pain during squats can be disheartening, but it doesn't mean you have to give up on your fitness goals. By understanding the potential causes of knee pain, improving your squatting form, strengthening supporting muscles, progressing gradually, implementing warm-up and recovery techniques, addressing pre-existing conditions, and seeking professional guidance, you can navigate knee pain and enjoy a pain-free squatting experience. Remember to prioritize your health, listen to your body, and find the best strategies for you. With determination and perseverance, you can conquer knee pain and continue your squatting journey with confidence.

Our Approach to Pain-free Squatting at REP Physio

At REP Physio, you can consult with our qualified physiotherapists, who, with their expertise, will develop a customized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and medical history. At REP Physio, we prioritize your recovery with patient-driven exercise prescription and treatment techniques, as well as education in a one-on-one setting to help you regain strength, mobility, and confidence in your squats.

Our extended one-on-one treatments make it easy for our clients to find relief. If you are looking for support and guidance to treat those health problems, the REP Physio team would be happy to see you. We are your allied health professional for wellness and pain management in South Edmonton. Book your appointment today.

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