The squat is a fundamental move that develops strength, stability, and mobilitywhile improving performance in day-to-day tasks like taking the stairs or running to catch a train. But knee pain is a common complaint associated with the popular move. Here, three reasons your knees might hurt when you squat, and how to get through the exercise pain-free.
When you perform a squat incorrectly, like by lifting your heels off the floor, it shifts the workload to your knees. “Ninety percent of the people who feel pain during squats have mobility issues,” says Justin Jacobs, Tier X manager at Equinox St. James in London. “Because we don’t move as much as we age, we become stiff in our ankles and hips—and wobbly in the spine—which makes it tough to squat properly.”
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that more stress is put on the patellofemoral joint (the spot where your kneecap rests on your knee) as you bend lower and add more weight. Squat pain-free: Some people can sink deeper into their squat than others without feeling discomfort. If you’re in pain at the bottom of the squat, make it more shallow. You’ll benefit from the move no matter how low you go.
Cracking or popping in the knees (crepitus) is generally benign. "Sometimes it's the tendons or ligaments popping over prominent ridges on the bones around the knee or hip joint,” says Alexander McLawhorn, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “It could also be caused by bubbles within the joint fluid, and these forms of crepitus can be totally normal and harmless.” That said, crepitus can coincide with pain and signal an increased risk of osteoarthritis. Squat pain-free: Strengthening your quads can take some pressure off the knee joints and slow down any potential wearing down of joint cartilage. If the cracking comes with pain, seek evaluation from an orthopedic specialist.