Why Your Squats Are Painful – Even When You’re Doing Them Just As You’ve Been Told

You know what we’re talking about. Knowing that squats are a great full-body workout, you assume the position that your friends or personal trainer from a while back showed you:

  • Feet pointed straight ahead
  • Knees not bending in front of your toes
  • Knees hip width apart
  • Your buttocks ‘seated’ all the way back

‘It’s just like sitting down on an invisible chair, and then getting back up’ you recall them saying. While you see your peers at the gym squatting regularly, by the time you start completing your set, your knees start feeling uncomfortable. Your lower back feels strained. Your hips don’t feel like they’re holding your upper body up quite the way they should be. 

‘It’s just because I’m not as strong as I want to be, yet’, you tell yourself as you watch others around you complete squats without the same difficulty. ‘it’ll get better over time… right?’

Well, no. If any action is giving you pain or discomfort when you perform it, whether it’s a squat or a burpee or even a simple walk, you should listen to it, because something isn’t right.

This is an issue that is near and dear to our podiatrists in Toowoomba, as we’ve been treating high numbers of runners and active patients with ongoing foot and leg problems resulting from an insufficiency in their gluteal muscles. When it comes to strengthening their glutes, however, they implement poor squatting techniques (and not necessarily through any fault of their own). Instead of getting stronger and better, more pains and problems develop instead.

This is an all-too-common problem here in Australia, so today we’re going to talk about 3 things to help shed some light on why squats are much less comfortable (and even painful) for some people over others, starting with:

Is there one correct squatting technique?

 Absolutely not – your squatting technique is not a one-size-fits-all deal. Let us explain. 

Our bodies are all anatomically very different. We have different heights and widths, we have different groups of tight muscles, strong muscles and weak muscles. Even the composition of our tissues (and hence natural flexibility) varies greatly. Our joints have varying positions and angles because of these differences – and vice versa – these varying positions can also contribute to muscular differences.

So when you’re instructed to line your body up in a precise way and start squatting down, the differences can be seen in our alignment as our joints and muscles will respond differently to the same movement. While some of us may naturally be able to squat deeper and painlessly, others may not be able to squat at all, or may experience significant pain while doing so. A good example is having a tight iliotibial band that will pull on the outside of the knee as we squat down and encourage our kneecap (patella) to move outwards.

What we WILL define as a correct squatting position is:

“the movement that allows you to complete squats without exacerbating or creating injuries secondary to this movement” 
(thanks to Dr Zach Long for this one!)

In order to achieve this movement, you’ve got to both listen to your body when something feels painful or not quite right, and you’ve got to learn the right technique for your body. This is the foundation for an exciting little project we’re actually currently working on – stay tuned!

Which factors affect our squats?

Like we mentioned before, it all starts with your anatomy. Just as some of us have noses that are wide and prominent, or small and narrow (or a combination of these), our joints have differences in their shapes too. Combine this with ligament laxity, movement restrictions and muscles imbalances throughout the lower limbs and you have a multitude of factors that can each affect the way you move. In turn, this will be affecting your comfort, performance and your injury risk, when you squat – because when you’re getting repeated pain, an injury won’t be too far away.

What this really means is that you may need to change and improve your squatting technique based on what is happening with your body – even if it goes against what that PT told you and what you see others doing – and that is absolutely fine. It’s just important to do so correctly under the guidance of an experienced musculoskeletal physician – which is exactly why we’re launching this service!

Which injuries can a poor squatting technique lead to?

Understanding the importance of having a good, comfortable technique is best illustrated by understanding what the risks are when you don’t. Injuries from an improper squatting technique are generally overuse injuries, meaning they occur from repeated movements that irritate a joint, muscle or tissue. You are most likely to experience pain in the hip, knee, groin or lower back, and the pain may present as:

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee – pain beneath the kneecap)
  • Patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee – knee pain below and around the kneecap)
  • Iliotibial band syndrome (pain on the outside of the knee, especially when bent)
  • Knee meniscus damage (pain within the knee joint)
  • Hip flexor strain (pain at the sides of your hips)
  • Hip impingement (groin pain)
  • Hip bursitis (pain on the outside of the hip or lower buttock)
  • Back muscle strains (back pain)
  • Bulging disc (buttock, thigh or calf pain, tingling, weakness)

So what should you do?

Firstly, if you’re experiencing any pain or discomfort during or after squatting, listen to your body and stop. Pain never occurs for no reason – it is our body’s way of letting us know that something is wrong and that we need to change what we’re doing – so please listen to it.

The next is to be assessed for any damage or injury that may have already occurred. Once we understand exactly what is happening, we’ll be able to form a tailored management plan to help your injuries recover effectively so we can get started on that squatting technique of yours.

Don’t forget that it’s not just about helping you squat without pain, it’s about letting you experience all of the benefits of completing healthy squat sets. The strength you build in the gluteal muscles will form a solid foundation for reducing the likelihood of injury in so many other activities. You may find that it was even contributing to the cause of your foot pain, leg pain, or impaired running performance.

Everything we do is to help you optimise your health so you can realise your full potential – and this small change can definitely make a powerful difference in doing so! To book an appointment with one of our experienced podiatrists, you can click to
book online here or call us on 07 4638 3022.

Call Now Book Online