How To Move Without Pain

4 Squat Modifications to make for Painful Knees

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 6 minutes to read

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Doing squats can be a great way to strengthen your leg muscles and build your glutes to make getting up from a chair, walking up and down stairs, or up a hill easier.

But squats can cause knee pain for a lot of people. 

📌Sometimes, knee pain from squatting can be from improper form
📌 The pain could also be from weakness in the quadriceps (thigh muscles)
📌 It can be the result of the way your knees are shaped. 

If you’re experiencing knee pain while doing squats, you don’t have to abandon this great exercise!

Try these smart modifications to traditional squats to work your leg muscles so they can get stronger without causing your knee pain.

  1. Use a Smaller Range of Motion

Reducing the range of bend the knees move through can reduce the stress of the joints.  A good way to do this is to put a box or chair behind you.  These are often called “box squats”.  The goal is not to sit on the chair, but to just touch it with your butt as a target to go to a good depth.  You can adjust this height up or down depending on how you tolerate it.

  1. Check your form

Squatting with incorrect posture can cause strains. Make sure your knees stay apart – knee should stay as wide as your feet are placed.  Keep your shoulders tall to avoid hunching and straining your back. 

  1. Sending your hips back instead of straight down helps your shins remain vertical

This is called a hip hinge, can help to make sure you are using your glute muscles, and also takes a lot of straining pressure off the knees, greatly improving the comfort of squatting.  To do a hip hinge, follow these steps:

  • Shift your weight to your heels and push your hips back towards the wall behind you while you hinge forward at the hips. Think about sticking your butt out behind you.
  • Lower your torso until it’s midway between vertical and parallel to the floor. Pause. Keep a slight bend in your knees during the downward and upward phase. 
  • Reverse the movement by contracting your glutes and pushing your hips forward and upward to return to the starting position. 
  1. Watch where your kneecaps point.

Make sure your knees are pointing in the same direction as your toes as they bend. This helps avoiding twisting around the knee which can cause added stress on the ligaments and tendons. 

Squats are great exercise. The movement is familiar and functional, a movement we complete every time we sit in a chair, walking down stairs, or get into bed. Strengthening within our legs from hips to ankles is needed to complete the motion correctly. If squatting is a painful activity for you, try these ideas for modifications so you can work to strengthen your legs without pain.

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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