Knee pain is very common whether you are working a daily exercise program, or simply performing daily activities that involve kneeling or squatting. While for some, pain can be easily attributed to an injury of some sort, there are many individuals who experience knee pain without an identifiable injury.

While the most obvious immediate measure to reduce pain would be to limit the activities that cause discomfort however, that may not be completely possible or desirable as a long term solution. Let’s take a few minutes to examine knee pain when squatting, common causes, treatments, and alternative means of exercise.

Common Causes of Knee Pain

There are plenty of reasons for knee pain. Sprains and strains can occur due to impact injuries, as well as twisting or bending the knee incorrectly while exercising or engaging in sports. However, more often, knee pain can occur even without obvious injury. Experiencing knee pain while squatting, whether during exercise or daily activities, is fairly common. It can be caused by a number of factors.

  1. Squatting incorrectly. Squatting is a very common activity. Even if not part of an exercise routine, we may squat as part of daily activities, such as cleaning, lifting, and putting items away. Oftentimes, incorrect form can cause muscle and tendon strain.
  2. “Runner’s knee”, or medically known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, is caused by repetitive movements of the knee joint, which can wear down the cartilage around the kneecap. Pain from Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome is usually centered at the front of the knee, on the kneecap. It may be accompanied by “cracking” of the knee joint as well as swelling of the knee. Runner’s knee pain is worse with movement.
  3. Patellar Tendonitis is an injury to the tendon that connects the shin bone to the kneecap. It is caused by repetitive activity that strains the tendon, causing small tears in the tissue. Tears on tendons throughout the body are not uncommon and in most cases, they will heal by themselves. However, tendonitis occurs when, due to continual activity, more and more stress is placed on a specific tendon, creating additional damage. As the tears and the damage increase, it places a lot of stress on that tendon, which then becomes weak, inflamed, and painful.
  4. Patellofemoral Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the cartilage that lines the back of the kneecap wears down over time due to repetitive movements. This typically occurs with older individuals and the pain is most evident with deeper knee bends, such as when squatting.

How to Treat Knee Pain

The best course of action when experiencing pain in the knee from squatting, or other deep knee bends is to limit the activity as much as possible. Doctors and Physical Therapists also recommend the RICE method, which is outlined below:

  1. Rest – Rest the knee as often as possible.
  2. Ice – wrap ice in a towel and place the ice on the knee in 20 minute intervals.
  3. Compress – wrap knee with a compression band, such as an ace bandage or something similar.
  4. Elevate – whenever possible, elevate the knee above the heart whenever possible.

For pain that is caused by Osteoarthritis, heat from a heating pad, or hot water bottle can also help considerably. Taking over the counter NSAIDs will help reduce both pain and swelling around the knee. Common NSAIDS that you can purchase at the pharmacy or supermarket are Ibuprofen and Naproxen. In addition, massage and capsaicin creams can also alleviate knee pain.

Also consider changing your exercise routine, and engage in lower impact activities, such as swimming, aqua-aerobics, aqua-jogging, or bike riding. These activities can help build up the muscles around the knee, hips and ankles, while lowering the overall negative impact on the knee joints.


There are several things that help prevent pain in the knees while squatting. The most important thing is form. Whether squatting as part of an exercise program, or squatting to sit, or to pick something off the floor, it is essential to always use proper form. When squatting, the leg muscles should be doing the work, not the back.

Your feet should be shoulder width apart and heels should be on the floor. When squatting and raising back up, tuck in your pelvis, and keep your back straight, not curved downward. Your feet should always remain flat on the floor. This will ensure that your weight is evenly distributed and your legs are doing the work, not your back.

It’s also very important to build up the muscles in the leg that support the knee. Starting an exercise program that includes some strength training for the quadriceps and hamstrings will help prevent future injury and knee pain while squatting. As with any exercise program, it is imperative to stretch before engaging, even if you are doing low impact exercises, such as walking or swimming.

Finally, it’s also important to maintain a healthy weight and engage in some form of regular exercise.

Squats for Bad Knees ?

Strengthening the muscles around the knees is the best defense against continued knee pain, so finding a way to modify traditional exercises to reduce the overall impact on the knee is important. For those who want to continue a daily exercise program that includes squats, the best way to reduce pressure on the knees is to use a modified squat using a stability ball.

It’s very simple. Place the ball between the wall and your mid-back. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and flat to the floor. Begin the squat and press your back against the stability ball to help reduce the stress on the knees while doing the squat. Keep your feet flat on the floor while completing the squat. Use the same pressure against the ball when standing up from the squat position.

Using this modified form of squat will help build up the muscles around the knee while reducing the overall impact on the knee itself.

Squatting is a common practice, in exercise and in daily life. If pain in the knees becomes problematic, always ensure that you are using proper form. Use RICE techniques to manage pain, and engage is some low impact exercise to help strengthen your muscles without overly impacting your knees. As always, if pain persists or becomes worse, always see your doctor.