3 simple steps to squat with osteoarthritis knee pain from a physical therapist

It is possible to squat even with osteoarthritis knee pain. In fact, it’s something you NEED to learn how to do in order to use the bathroom, get in your car, get up from a chair, and many other tasks. As a physical therapist, I know squats can be painful but after helping hundreds of clients through knee pain, I want you to know that it is possible to squat again and actually even enjoy it! Here are 3 simple ways you can start squatting again without severe pain. 

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One of the first things many people are told when they see a healthcare professional about osteoarthritis knee pain is “avoid squats“.

Have you ever been told that?

Not only does this make you hesitant to squat, it can actually make you fearful of the movement. 

Squats are an incredibly vital movement for daily life and it absolutely is possible to regain the ability to squat and for it not to hurt your knees! The key is knowing how to do it correctly

As a physical therapist, I often find that for those with knee pain, making simple tweaks to squat form can make a significant difference in pain which is why I am writing this very article.

It is possible to squat again!

I first started seeing this client below for knee pain that just didn’t seem to go away no matter what she did. 

Stairs became hard and she dreaded squats because of the pain. 

After getting started with the three simple steps listed below- she actually likes squats now because she can feel her muscles working without any increase in pain 😍 

Don’t get me wrong, it takes work. It takes consistency and dedication to these movements I am about to show you. 

But, look at how smooth she is and how easy it is for her to stand! 

What would it mean to you if you could finally squat without severe pain?

I’ve realized that so many people with osteoarthritis knee pain are told to avoid squats and then they begin to fear them. I recently received this comment from one of my followers and wanted to let you know that you are not alone if you were told that or are feeling fearful.

knee arthritis pain squats

The biggest problem I see as a physical therapist

Squatting can be painful for a variety of reasons, you can learn more about them here.

One of the biggest problems I see when someone tries to squat with osteoarthritis knee pain is they lead with the knees. 

Think about it, try to squat just freely. What bends first? Likely your knees do. 

Now, if you stand in front of chair, and squat down to the chair- notice what bends first…likely your hips! 

The first step in learning how to squat is teaching your body to do it differently- this is, of course, the hardest part as you likely have had many reps of squats over your lifetime. Learning a new way to do it may feel weird. But, the reward is very powerful.

You can see a more in depth video below on this common mistake: 

Step 1: Learn to hinge

First things first, you have to learn how to use your hips more than your knees. This is because your hips are much stronger and able to handle more stress. 

If you try to squat and move your knees first, you likely aren’t using your hips very much. This can also be a reason why you feel like you can’t squat down very low. 

The good news is the hinge is perfect, even if you are currently in osteoarthritis knee pain. It usually feels good on the knees! 

Here is a video below on what the exercise should look like. Ideally, you will feel a stretch in the backs of your legs. 

This one is important to learn how to squat because it teaches you how to use your hips. This is the first part of the squat movement.

Complete 12-20 of these 2-3 times per day as long as it feels good! 

Step 2: Get comfortable sitting your hips back

Now that you’ve felt what it’s like to sit your hips back first, now let’s practice! 

There are two ways of doing this exercise that I will show you below. 

This first one is using a stable stair rail or a kitchen counter works great too. Grab on and sit your hips back so most of your weight is in your heels. 

Go down only as far as is comfortable when starting out and increase depth as you start to feel more confident. Aim for 8-10 reps when getting started, 2-3 times per day, making sure it still feels good.

The second option is similar to the first but uses a different piece of equipment. I want to preface this exercise with the fact that this is one of my FAVORITE pieces of equipment when it comes to exercising with clients who have osteoarthritis.

These suspension straps can be so helpful when it comes to learning how to do movements by making them less scary

This type of squat still offers support so you are able to use your hands to help you as you learn how to squat. 

Same rep scheme goes for this exercise. Complete 8-10 reps, 2-3 times per day as able. 

You can find more TRX suspension strap exercises here.

Step 3: Remove the support

The next step is to remove the support. Now you have gotten more comfortable in this position, now it’s time to move on. 

Starting out, find a surface that is high enough for you to be able to stand from relatively comfortably. Use pillows or cushions to raise the surface if needed.

Think about leading with your hips and sitting back. The goal is to be able to accomplish 8-10 reps without severe pain, relatively easily before you lower the surface. 

Make squats possible with osteoarthritis knee pain

You don’t have to avoid squats for the rest of your life just because you have osteoarthritis. It is possible to be able to get up from chairs and the toilet without significant difficulty and/or pain. 

Following these steps are a great place to start. Please note that these may not work for everyone so if you are experiencing difficulty- there are tons of other ways to learn how to squat! Here is a video of 10 other modifications you can try. 

I want you to know that you can do this. Squats aren’t inherently “bad” for your knees. Many people can experience pain during squats if their bodies aren’t prepared to absorb the stress with appropriate muscles and/or they are overloading the joint due to compensations.

Learning how to squat correctly and prepare your body is one of the most vital activities to master. Think of how many times you typically squat during the day: getting in/out of the car, using the toilet, sitting on the couch, sitting on any chair, etc. I highly encourage you to take the time and dedicate yourself to learning this skill. 

P.S Before you go....

I often meet so many people who want to be active, adventurous and free from osteoarthritis but they have no idea where to start. 

If you are reading this article right now and dealing with osteoarthritis knee pain with no idea where to turn first, I’m really glad you’re here.

Surgery actually isn’t inevitable. You have options. But, so many people are led to believe otherwise. Not today…

If you want to take the fast track to relief and want to get started right now– I highly recommend joining the signature membership, Adventurers for Life. It is an arthritis workout program like you’ve never seen before.

Check out what members have been able to accomplish with the right steps. What if this could be you?! 

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My main mission is to show you that you can do this. That you can adventure with osteoarthritis. I want you to finally feel hope and encouragement instead of frustration and confusion.

I’m so glad you’re here and I wish you the best on this journey. 

Disclaimer: This post is for general informational purposes only. It should not be used to self-diagnose and it is not a substitute for a medical exam, cure, treatment, diagnosis, and prescription or recommendation. It does not create a doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Kuhn and you. You should not make any change in your health regimen or diet before first consulting a physician and obtaining a medical exam, diagnosis, and recommendation. Move Well Age Well, LLC and Dr. Alyssa Kuhn, PT, DPT are not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any conclusions drawn, services or product you obtain through this post, video or site.

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If you are looking to regain your active life but are unsure where to start, join the revolutionary membership, Adventurers for Life. This is a step-by-step path that not only will help you find pain relief but will help you unlock adventure. You’ll get workouts, tests to pass to make sure you are on the right track, community events and MORE. 

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