Knee Pain When Squatting

Knee pain results from an illness or injury that affects the knee. It can involve any part of the knee, including the ligaments and tendons. Non-invasive treatment options are available that promote healing and strengthen the knee. Learn more about squatting and knee pain at Health Report Live.

Knee Pain When Squatting Overview

Squats are a good exercise for building quadriceps. Squats are beneficial and keep all the muscle groups in your legs strong. If you experience knee pain when squatting, you may have pushed yourself a little too far. 

Continued overuse can lead to long-term damage and chronic pain. Your knees bear most of your weight while you are walking, running, or moving around in general. One misstep and you can experience many different types of pain and discomfort. 

Are Squats Bad for Your Knees?

Generally, squats are not bad for your knees if you perform them correctly. Knee pain results from poor body mechanics and muscle imbalances. If you receive a knee injury and do not take care of it properly, it may not heal correctly. This leads to inflammation. Scar tissue can form that will result in long-term chronic pain.

Squats are valuable exercises if your legs are strong and your knees are healthy. The key to recovering after a knee injury is to take things slowly. Do not overuse those joints until you have regained enough strength to perform squats correctly. Build up your glutes, quads, and hamstrings for extra support.

Potential Causes of Knee Pain During Squatting

While overuse is probably the most common cause of knee pain during squatting, you should consider other causes. At the first sign of knee discomfort, stop and take a few mental notes about when the pain started and what you were doing. It will help you get a better idea of what type of injury you may be dealing with.

Squatting Incorrectly

The incorrect technique is a form of poor body mechanics and a leading cause of knee pain and discomfort.

Spraining or Twisting the Knee

Spraining or twisting the knee abnormally can be painful. Slip and fall accidents, work-related injuries, or athletic injuries are sometimes the cause. It can also occur if you do not warm up sufficiently before exercising.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, or runner’s knee, is characterized by pain around the kneecap or patella. The pain may also be present around the front of the knee. You may experience inflammation as well.


Tendonitis in the knee, also known as patellar tendonitis, is an irritation of the tendons that support the knee and its parts. If the tendons have been stretched or torn, it may take a month or longer for them to heal.

Arthritis of the Knee

Arthritis of the knee has different forms. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where healthy tissues are attacked by the body’s immune system. Osteoarthritis is the result of bone degeneration as the body ages.

Tendon or Cartilage Tears 

Tendon or cartilage tears can be the result of athletic injuries or work-related injuries where the knee has been forced into an abnormal position or motion.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

The iliotibial band syndrome, or IT-band syndrome, is a condition that extends into your upper thigh and hip area.

When to See a Doctor

Everyone experiences pain from time to time. You may want to consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor if you begin to experience knee pain.

It is important to see a doctor if the pain is not going away. If you are recovering from a knee injury, you should begin to see improvements in a week to ten days. If it takes longer than that, a visit to your doctor may be in order. With proper pain management, you will have your pain under control in a short period.


Your doctor will have to ask you several questions to make an accurate diagnosis. By providing accurate answers, your doctor can make an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor will need to know when the pain started and how consistent it is. 

What activities cause you pain. Your doctor will ask if you have started a new exercise program or explored any new activities. Increasing your level of physical activity before your body is ready will increase your risk of injury. The more honest you are, the more accurate your diagnosis will be.

In addition to the answers you provide, your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam and maybe an X-ray or two. Your doctor may want to have an MRI taken as well. You may even be asked to move your knee in various ways so that your doctor can identify any potential causes of your pain. 

Treatment for Knee Pain

There are quite a few effective treatment options for knee pain. Physical therapy and moderate exercise are two of the most common. Both are non-invasive and work by increasing your strength and encouraging blood flow to return to the injured area. 

The healing process is much slower with these treatment options, but the injury will begin to repair itself naturally.

Exercise is efficient because it strengthens the entire area around the knee including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, and other muscles in the area. Your doctor may prescribe orthotics that may be beneficial as well.

Arthroscopy is an invasive surgery where a camera is inserted into the area. The doctor can then make the necessary repairs without disrupting the other surrounding tissues. Small incisions are made through which the doctor will work. The procedure will be completed in no time and you will be back on the mend rather quickly.

Recovery and Pain Relief

Recovery from any knee injury takes time. Since the bones, ligaments, and tendons are connective tissue, they do not get the same amount of blood flow as soft tissues. This means that the healing and recovery time will be longer. 

The length of time it takes to heal will depend on several things. The severity of the injury is a huge factor. Because the injury involves the knee joint, it will be difficult for you to rest it sufficiently. You may need to wear a brace or use crutches to prevent moving the knee too much.

Over-the-counter pain relievers may be your best source of pain relief. If the pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications after a surgical procedure. There are also many home remedies you can use to help alleviate your pain, inflammation, and discomfort.

A knee injury can take up to two months or longer to heal completely. Taking any medication, either prescription or over-the-counter can be harmful. Finding other ways of managing the pain will make it easier for your body to heal. 

Home Remedies for Knee Pain

There are several ways to relieve knee pain at home.

  • Change your activity – If you can not do squats for exercise, you will want to change your activity. Swimming is low impact and offers maximum resistance. You may have to avoid squats until your knee has healed enough to perform more strenuous exercises.
  • R.I.C.E. – The athlete’s formula: R-rest, I-ice, C-compression, and E-elevation works wonders at relieving pain and discomfort.
  • Heat – Applying heat brings blood flow to the area, improving circulation and minimizing discomfort.
  • Medicate for pain – Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and pain relievers are effective as you move through the recovery and healing process.
  • Consider massage – Deep tissue massage soothes the muscle tissues, improves blood flow, improves flexibility, and eliminates inflammation that could be leading to stiffness. Massage therapy also strengthens the muscle tissues making them more resilient.

Ways to Prevent Knee Pain When Squatting

You will want to make sure you are performing the squats correctly to avoid knee pain. Proper form is essential to prevent any injury. The following tips will help with strength, stabilization, and support.

  • Increase your Ankle Mobility – Increasing ankle mobility adds support to the lower leg and dramatically improves stability.
  • Increase your Hip Strength – Increasing your hip strength supports the core areas of the body and prevents jerking or weaving of the lower body that can strain and severely injure the knees as you are attempting to maintain steady and upright motion.
  • Use a Smaller Range of Motion – A larger range of motion may be pushing your joint beyond its limitations during the recovery process. A smaller range of motion allows for more accurate movement that will not stress or re-injure the joint.
  • Choose Lighter or No Weights – During the recovery phase, cut back on the amount of weight you use. It’s even better to use no weight at all and practice only using proper body mechanics and smooth movements.
  • Tweak Your Form – While you are working on your body mechanics, try shifting your feet to find your ideal comfort zone. When you feel comfortable with a movement and you are not experiencing any discomfort, you can begin to add a little weight to the mix. You will still need to use the proper squat form when returning to a standing position.
  • Try Box Squats or Sumo Squats – Box squats involve squatting to a sitting position on a box and then reversing the movements and standing back up. Sumo squats follow the same pattern except it is free motion with no box or bar.
  • Do the Leg Press Machine – Putting the leg press machine on the lowest resistance and lightest weight will help you build strength in the knee without stressing the joint. More reps with less weight will help your knee heal without putting additional stress on the joint.
  • Use Elastic Resistance Bands – Elastic resistance bands are easy to use and match resistance with effort. You can use them from a sitting position or while you are laying down. Bands come in different sizes. You can advance as you become more comfortable using them.
  • Get Arm Support – Arm support is a good idea when you first doing squats. Strong arms allow you to support yourself so you do not move too quickly or place too much stress or strain on your knees and other joints.
  • Try a No-Impact Squat Machine – A no-impact squat machine allows you to perform the movements without placing any unnecessary stress on your knees, hips, or ankles. This type of machine can be used daily and help to build both strength and endurance as the joint moves through the recovery process.

Is It Ok to Squat With Knee Pain?

You should avoid doing squats that put any stress on the knee if you are experiencing any pain. Basic squats with no weight should be the only type of squats you do until you know what is causing your pain. Once you know what is causing your knee to hurt, you may be able to take steps to correct the problem and start the healing process.

Taking your time during recovery is the best way to eliminate knee pain as you continue to heal. While you may be able to perform lunges and other exercises, avoid strength training until you have reached a level of recovery and wellness where your pain is at a minimum.

What Joints Should I Stretch to Improve My Squatting Mobility?

You should stretch your hips, knees, and ankles before squatting. While you are stretching the joints in your lower body, it is also a good idea to put some work into your spinal column and arms as well. These are your stabilizers and will support your body while you are doing your squat exercises. 

Poor squat techniques may cause lower back pain if you are trying to stabilize the body in the wrong way. Your leg muscles will be doing the work. It is up to you to maintain stability in the lower back. 

What Knee Supports Can I Wear to Reduce Pain When Squatting?

Compression knee sleeves and knee wraps are the best supports for your knees to use while you are squatting. These are comfortable to wear and provide the support your knees need to maintain stability. Knee sleeves and knee wraps are flexible and will stretch with you as you move. 

They use compression to minimize the risk of inflammation and re-injuring the area. Any time your knee hurts or does not feel strong, you should wear a knee brace.

Who Can Help Me With My Knee Pain When Squatting?

When you start to experience knee pain, the first pain you should talk to is your doctor. Once your doctor has identified the cause of your pain and given you an accurate diagnosis, you can work them to put together a treatment plan that will allow you to advance through your recovery and get back into the gym. 

Your healthcare provider will be able to point you in the right direction.

You can begin to work with a physical therapist or personal trainer who specializes in recovery therapy as soon as you return to the gym. They will be able to create a recovery plan that will allow you to advance through your healing that is at a pace that is right for you. Doing the same activities you do in your daily life will also be beneficial.

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers is currently a Resident in the Internal Medicine program at UTMB. He studied at the University of Queensland School of Medicine as well as received his Master’s in Public Health with a focus in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Southern California. His background is in biology, computer science, public health, and internal medicine.

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