Knee pain when squatting is a common, but avoidable, problem.
There is a common misconception that squatting is bad for your knees, but that just isn’t true.
When done correctly, squatting is actually really good for you! Indeed, in many countries, squatting is a common resting position.
Our bodies are designed to be able to squat without knee pain. The key to pain-free squatting is a combination of good muscle strength, adequate flexibility, a healthy joint and good technique.
Squatting is rarely the primary cause of knee pain, but often exacerbates underlying knee problems. Here we will look at the most common causes of knee pain from squats, how to treat and prevent them and how to make sure you using the best technique when you squat.
The most common causes of knee pain when squatting are:
The most common injury to cause knee pain when squatting is a meniscus tear where there is damage to the special cartilage that lines the knee joint.
Sharp knee pain when squatting is common with cartilage injuries and people often experience a catching or locking sensation in the knee when they squat down. The deeper the squat, the worse the pain typically. LEARN MORE >
Poor technique is one of the most common causes of knee pain when squatting.
If the hips, knees or ankles are in the wrong position when squatting, particularly with deep squats, then knee joint gets overloaded which leads to pain.
In my experience, almost everyone I’ve seen complaining of knee pain when squatting has weak gluteal muscles. The glutes play a massive role in supporting the knee joint. If they are weak, the knee cannot track properly and gets overloaded, resulting in knee pain during and after squatting. The good news is, glute strengthening exercises can really help.
Runners Knee, aka PFPS (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome), is another common cause of knee pain when squatting. With Runners Knee, there is a problem with how the kneecap moves resulting in irritation of the cartilage on the back of the kneecap, making it painful to squat.
The symptoms of Runners Knee tend to come and go, are typically worse after prolonged rest or long periods of exercise and sufferers often experience clicking/grinding sensations when moving their knee. LEARN MORE >
Chondromalacia patella is one of the most common causes of knee pain when squatting in young, healthy individuals. With chondromalacia there is softening of the cartilage that lines the back of the kneecap.
People with chondromalacia patella typically complain of a dull, achy pain at the front of their knee and a grinding sensation when they squat. LEARN MORE >
With patellar tendonitis, aka Jumpers Knee, there is damage to the patellar tendon, found just below the kneecap. Repetitive forces through the tendon e.g. frequent jumping and kicking, leads to inflammation and tearing of the tendon. This results in pain any time the knee bends, particularly when taking weight through the knee, such as when squatting.
Without effective treatment, the symptoms of patellar tendonitis gradually get worse over time, increasing in frequency, intensity and duration. LEARN MORE >
With ITBS, there is irritation of the thick band running down the outer thigh to the knee. Tightness in the band pulls on the kneecap, bringing it slightly out of position. This leads to excess friction and force through the kneecap when bending the knee, resulting in knee pain when squatting.
The pain from iliotibial band syndrome tends to be on the outer side of the knee and may be accompanied by a popping/snapping sensation. ITBS most commonly affects runners. LEARN MORE >
Knee arthritis is the most common cause of knee pain squatting in people over the age of 60. Wear and tear of the knee cartilage and bones associated with arthritis can make squatting very painful.
With knee arthritis there is less cushioning and space between the knee bones and when you squat down, the cartilage gets squashed and the bones rub on each other which can cause a lot of pain. The inner side of the knee is most commonly affected. LEARN MORE >
Most cases of knee pain from squatting can be treated at home using a combination of:
NB If you have injured your knee, make sure you get checked out by your doctor before trying these to rule out anything serious.
Without the right technique, knee pain when squatting can be a real problem, particularly if you are using weights or doing deep squats. But making a few small adjustments really can make all the difference. Anyone doing squats as part of their workout problem should be aware of their technique.
So let’s look at how to perform the perfect squat:
If you are recovering from a knee injury, have arthritis or find you are still getting knee pain when squatting, try these wall squats instead. The wall provides some support which helps to reduce the forces going through the knees, and makes it easier to balance and stay in good alignment.
To perform wall squats correctly:
Most people suffering from knee pain when squatting find that their symptoms settle down in a few weeks using the treatments we have talked about here. If however your symptoms persist you, talk to your doctor. Other things that can help if you get knee pain from squatting include:
If your pain from squats continues to get worse or is accompanied by knee locking or giving way, you may need to have arthroscopic (keyhole) knee surgery.
What Are The Benefits Of Squatting? There are a whole host of benefits of squatting:
Why Do My Knees Crack When Squatting? There are a number of possible reasons why knees crack when squatting. If the cracking noise is accompanied by knee pain, it is most likely due to a cartilage injury or arthritis.
Often knees crack when squatting without there being any pain, which is usually due to gas bubbles in the joint popping. Visit the knee pain and popping section to find out more.
What Causes Knee Pain After Squatting? If you get knee pain after squatting down rather than during squatting, chances are you are overworking your knee. There is most likely a problem with muscle strength and endurance and as the muscles fatigue, they are unable to provide adequate support to the knee, resulting in pain.
Knee pain after squatting could also be the result of a minor injury inside the knee such as a small cartilage tear. Performing squats may be irritating the joint slightly causing a slow build of inflammation that continues to build once after you’ve finished squatting, resulting in delayed onset knee pain.
If you are suffering from knee pain when squatting, don’t lose heart. Chances are, things will improve with a combination of knee exercises and changing your technique.
Don’t be afraid to squat – our bodies are designed to do it, and in fact, being able to squat is really important when it comes to lifting heavy objects so that there is minimal strain on your lower back.
Listen to your body – if you are getting knee pain when squatting, don’t try and push through it. No pain no gain does not apply here. Take things a bit easier, let the pain settle down then work on a home exercise programme to strengthen the leg muscle and you should find yourself back to pain-free squatting before you know it.
Page Last Updated: 10/06/21
Next Review Due: 10/06/23
1. The Lowdown On Squats. Harvard Health Publishing. March 2019
2. Reasons For Knee Pain With Full Squats. Livestrong. April 2019
3. How To Squats Correctly. Arthritis Foundation