How To Fix Lower Back And Knee Pain When Squatting

If you experience lower back pain or knee pain when squatting, today we’ll be looking into the most common reasons behind that. This post contains two main parts. The first part we’ll look into the causes of pain when squatting:

  1. I’ll introduce you to the most common squatting form mistakes that cause lower back and knee pain.
  2. We’ll look into the underlying muscular weaknesses that may also be sabotaging your form.

The second part will focus on how to squat properly to avoid getting pain and creating new imbalances in the future.

Why Your Lower Back Hurts When Squatting

It’s extremely frustrating when you’re squatting and you feel the pressure slowly creeping in…in lower back that you have to cut your workout short or just sit there and wait to see if it’ll get better or worse. Sometimes it’s at the very end of your workout that you starting feeling it and it can you a few days to fully recover to get back to working out again. Below are very common reasons that may be causing this:

Lower Back Rounding

To test your squatting form, always do it fully bodyweight. Make sure to also record yourself with your phone. Yes, you can face the mirror and just check your form that way, but I don’t recommend doing it that way. It’ll affect your form because you need to be checking the side view and if you need to keep your spine straight.

Notice if as you’re squatting down, your back (upper, lower and lumbar) is rounding in any way.

Lower Back Arching

Notice if the opposite thing happens when squatting down. Is your lower back arching and creating a big C.

Weak Glutes And Deep Core Muscles

Your glutes and core are going to play a huge role in keeping your spine healthy and pain-free. Especially if you squat with weights. You need to make sure you always start any leg workout with proper glute and core activation as well as releasing the hip flexors with the foam roller. (more on that below)

Releasing Tight Overactive Muscles

This is the foam roller I’ve been using for the past few years. It’s very sturdy and really works on those trigger points. If you don’t have a foam roller, I recommend you actually get the 26 inches one. It’ll cover more surface when trying to foam roll your upper back and both your quads.

If you have very tight hips, they’ll inhibit the glutes from full extension and activation. So if you can’t feel your glutes, make sure to always start with a PSOAS and TFL release. This has made a huge difference in my leg training lately. 

I have a very detailed post on how to release the PSOAS muscle and unlock your hip flexors.

Don’t forget to also release the Tensor Fascia Lattae. Most people don’t know it’s another major hip flexor that gets extremely tight with our sedentary lifestyle.

You can also give your QL and side abdominals a nice stretch. I noticed this helps me get into a deeper squat.

QL:quadratus lumborum, is a deep posterior abdominal muscle, that tends to get tight and restricts our low back range of motion.

Why Your Knees Hurt When Squatting

In addition to the lower back pain, if you’re also experiencing knee pain when squatting, make sure you’re not making these mistakes:

Knees Moving Past Your Feet

Knees Caving In

Heels Elevating

How To Fix Knee-Related Form Mistakes

If you’re noticing that your heels are elevating, or that you can’t keep a straight back as you’re coming down without having to elevate your heels, I highly recommend you foam roll your calves in addition to all the other muscles I mentioned above.

You want to increase ankle mobility to help you get low without having to compensate by elevating your knees.

As you come down… transfer your weight into your thighs and hips while keeping your core, lats and glutes engaged. Your feet should remain stable on the floor.

Modification: A modification you can try to help with this issue by placing two plates behind your heels. By elevating the heels that way, you reduce the need for your calves to stretch. You can use this as you release the calve muscles and restore proper muscle tension. Just make sure that your knees are not traveling past your feet.

How To Squat Without Pain

If you’re making any of the above form mistakes, I want you to go back to the basics so you can re-educate your muscles to work synergistically as you squat. You can even start at home and add more challenge with weights or a resistance band around your thighs.

Chair Or Bench Squats

Start by using a bench or a chair to practice the hip hinge and transferring your weight to your hamstrings, glutes, and quads without using your lower back. Make sure to keep your back stable. You can hold weights as you progress. You can also use a lower bench or chair to practice getting into a deeper squat.

Wall Squats

I really love the wall squat variation because it’s hard to do this exercise wrong. Make sure your knees are right above your feet, your core and glutes are fully engaged, your back is not rounding (to the point that there is no natural arch) or over-arching that you can see a clear anterior pelvic tilt.

I notice that when my core is engaged, my back just naturally goes back into normal alignment. You can add a resistance band or hold a plate in front of you. This is a great quad, glutes and core strengthening exercise.

Make sure to also check out these posts:

Click here to get a free glute and hip strengthening exercise plan

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    • Hi Caroline!
      Yes getting the squat right takes some practise. I always love introducing a chair or bench to ensure the low back doesn’t absorb the pressure of bad form. And the loop band helps keep your knees from caving in. It’s good that you are aware of it, that’s always the first step to improving things 🙂 thanks for reading the blog!

  • I love that you detail how to foam roll before squats! A lot of my clients have never heard of a foam roller and are amazed at how well it helps loosen their muscles! Love the most common mistakes broken down and how you approach it with “let’s figure out why it’s wrong” instead of just saying to stop doing them. I had one person tell me people over 50 shouldn’t be doing squats and I wanted to die! Yesss you should! Great article! Straight and to the point, I loved it!!

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