One thing we hear from time to time is clients telling us they can’t squat because they have bad knees. First, let’s clear something up: contrary to popular belief, there’s really no such thing as ‘bad knees.’ Now, we’re not saying that you’re imagining your knee pain. However, if you experience pain in your knees while squatting, it’s much more likely related to an issue somewhere else in your kinetic chain, as opposed to your knee itself. In almost all cases, squats are not only safe, but from a functional standpoint, are actually one of the best exercises you can do for longevity. More than likely, you can, and SHOULD, squat!
Now, let’s talk about pain. While there can be a variety of reasons for knee pain during or after squat sessions, one of the most likely culprits is form. Weak muscles, tight muscles, and lack of mobility can all create less-than-optimal squat form. Add high reps or weight (or both) and you have a recipe for some achy knees. Here are 3 things to keep an eye out for next time you’re squatting:
Knees caving in: While squatting, you want your knees to track in line with your toes. If you find your knees caving in during your squat, it is likely indicative of weakness in your glutes and/or hips. Hip and glute strengthening should definitely be added to your routine. You may also find placing a resistance band above your knees and pushing against it during a squat can act as a helpful tool to remind you to keep glutes engaged.
Ankle range of motion: Though it may not seem like it at first, ankle mobility is key to a properly executed squat. Limited range of motion in the ankle joint can impact not only the depth of your squat, but also the position of your torso and load distribution throughout the movement. Stretches, mobilization exercises, and manual therapy by your PT can help with this. In the meantime, squatting using a plate to slightly elevate your heels can put you in a more optimal squat position - but just be sure that this doesn’t become a crutch!
Hip hinge: While this idea is generally associated with deadlifts, incorporating a slight hip hinge at the beginning of your squat can be a big help. Initiating your squat at the knees through knee flexion can create a ton of stress exactly where you don’t want it. Hinging slightly from your hips and focusing on ‘sitting back’ rather than ‘sitting down’ will ensure that you’re loading your muscles properly
Pro+Kinetix Physical Therapy & Performance specializes in helping active individuals in Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley, Walnut Creek, and San Francisco get back to exercising and working out pain free without having to take time off or relying on injections/pain medication. Pro+Kinetix offers physical therapy and performance services to all populations, with specialties in Sports Rehabilitation, Active Release Techniques, and Manual Therapy Techniques plus Personal and Small Group Training, Sport Clinics and Wellness Services.