Squatting is a position you may find yourself in throughout the day or during exercise. You may need to squat down to pick up toys in your home or to lift a box. Or you may squat in your workouts or while playing sports, like basketball.
Whatever the case, you may feel pain in this position from time to time. Discomfort may happen under your kneecap or in other parts of the joint, depending on the cause.
Read on to learn how to treat and prevent knee pain while squatting, and when you should see a doctor.
If you’ve experienced some trauma to your knee, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out fracture or other serious situations.
If you’re simply having some general pain when you squat, you may try treating your pain at home.
Change your activity
Look at how you’re moving throughout the day. You may need to change up your exercise or daily routine for some time while you’re experiencing pain.
Consider limiting or temporarily stopping activities that are causing you discomfort. If you don’t want to stop all physical activity, consider switching to cross-training that isn’t as tough on the joints.
Low-impact options include:
- aqua aerobics
- aqua jogging
The R.I.C.E. method involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation:
- Rest by stopping activities that make your knee hurt. You should also avoid everyday situations where you may need to put weight on your affected knee.
- Ice by applying cold packs to your knee for 20 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day. You should never put ice directly on your skin, so cover your ice pack with a light towel or blanket.
- Compress to prevent swelling. You can find elastic bandages at most drug stores. Resist the urge to wrap your knee too tightly. Light but snug tension is best. Be sure to leave a hole open over your kneecap.
- Elevate your knee as often as you can. You can lie down and prop your knee up on pillows so it rests higher than your heart.
R.I.C.E. is a good method to follow if you believe your pain may be the result of sprains or strains. But applying heat to the knee may help if your pain is related to arthritis or stiffness in your joint.
Heat improves blood and oxygen flow to the area, but it can also increase swelling and inflammation.
You may use a store-bought heating pad for relief or make your own using everyday items like rice in a sock, or wet towels in a zip-top bag.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications may help ease your pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are good choices because they help with both discomfort and inflammation. You may know these medications as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).
There are other OTC pain-relief methods available, including creams and gels. Capsaicin, for example, is an alternative for people who can’t take NSAIDs. It’s a compound found in hot chili peppers and can be applied as often as 3 to 4 times a day for several weeks.
Massage with a licensed massage therapist can help ease tension in the muscles that surround your joints, giving you relief and helping to prevent future injury.
Sports massage may be best for injuries related to sports and overuse. The technique is similar to Swedish massage, but it focuses specifically on affected muscles.
Ask your doctor for recommendations for massage therapists in your area, and call your insurance company before your appointment to see if you have coverage.
There are several conditions that may cause knee pain while squatting. The location of pain depends on the cause.
People with patellofemoral syndrome feel pain on the front of the knee near the kneecap when squatting. You may have heard this condition referred to as “runner’s” or “jumper’s” knee. It’s caused by overuse in sports, injury, or muscle imbalances. The patella is your kneecap, so people with this condition feel pain around the kneecap when doing things like running, jumping, kneeling, or squatting.
Other possible causes include:
- patellar tendonitis, which causes pain at the base of the kneecap and may also lead to swelling or a burning sensation in the kneecap
- osteoarthritis, which can cause swelling, knee weakness, increased pain in the morning, and snapping or popping noises as you move your knee
- injury or trauma to the knee, which may cause localized pain and swelling
- iliotibial band (IT-band) syndrome, which may also cause pain in your hip and upper thigh
- bacterial joint inflammation, which can also lead to swelling, redness, and a warming feeling around the joint, as well as fatigue and loss of appetite
Make an appointment with your doctor if home remedies aren’t helping with your pain. You’ll likely be asked about your injury and health history, including:
- when your pain started
- whether it’s off and on or consistent
- what activities bring on the most pain
- if you’ve recently tried any new activities
- if you’ve started training harder or longer recently
- if you’ve changed the surfaces you’re playing sports or running on
You’ll also have a physical exam so your doctor can evaluate your range of motion, swelling, grinding, or other symptoms. They may have you bend your knee, walk, or otherwise move your knee to see what positions cause the most pain.
Your doctor may order an X-ray or other imaging studies to get a look underneath the skin. An X-ray can help identify more serious issues like knee fractures or show if the kneecap is misaligned.
Physical therapy (PT) is a relatively noninvasive form of treatment for pain caused by or felt during squatting.
Exercises may include moves that help to strengthen the muscles that support your knee. You may work your quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip abductors. With patellofemoral syndrome, for example, the goal is to prevent the inward movement of the knee during a squat.
Custom orthotics are another option you may explore with your doctor or a podiatrist. These devices fit into your shoes and help promote better alignment of your feet and joints.
Surgery may help in more serious cases:
- Arthroscopy is a procedure where your doctor inserts a thin device with a camera (arthroscope) into your knee to look for and correct damage.
- Realignment is another, more invasive surgery that involves repositioning the kneecap or relieving pressure caused by cartilage.
The amount of time it takes to recover from knee injury depends on the severity of the injury, how much rest you take, and the treatment you choose.
You may get better by resting and treating your pain at home. Or you may need ongoing physical therapy sessions to work on muscle imbalances. Surgery may require months of healing.
Make sure you’re squatting with proper form:
- Start by standing with your back against a wall, feet about shoulder-width apart. Your heels should be 18 inches away from the wall, and your knees should be in line with your heels.
- From there, take a deep breath and squat as your exhale, sitting down as far as you can without dropping your bottom below your knees. Make sure to keep your knees in line with your heels.
- To return to standing, tighten your core muscles and flatten your back against the wall. Inhale as you slowly raise to your original standing position. And be sure to push from your heels and not the balls of your feet to ensure you’re using the muscles in the back of your legs.
Try doing squats in front of a mirror so that you can keep an eye on your form. Or, if you’re a member of a gym, ask one of the on-staff trainers to watch you do a squat. They can help you identify improper form.
Other tips you can incorporate into your daily life include:
- Ease up on activity if you feel discomfort. Knee pain while squatting may be caused by overuse, so resting may help you to avoid injury and heal faster.
- Lose weight. Carrying less weight can help reduce the amount of pressure that’s placed on your knees on a daily basis.
- Exercise regularly to keep your muscles and bones strong. Increase activity gradually to avoid injury.
- Make sure you properly warm up and cool down from all athletic activities.
- Wear any recommended orthotics to keep the alignment of your leg in check. Flat feet or high arches may contribute to your risk of injury. These devices can be prescribed or found OTC.
- Incorporate strength training into your routine to target your leg muscles.
- Incorporate stretching into your routine to work on any imbalances or tightness that may lead to injury.
Squatting is a part of everyday life and can help reduce your risk for back pain from lifting heavy objects.
Don’t power through pain. Your discomfort may have an underlying cause that needs medical attention. If not, your pain may respond well to home treatment.
Treat yourself with care, incorporate tips for prevention into your routine, and you’ll be back at your favorite activities before you know it.