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Working out With Knee Pain

Updated: May 13

woman doing a barbell squat

Knee pain is a very common disturbance for many athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It can be difficult to make it through a workout if the pain is present. In cases where the pain is debilitating its probably best to get it checked out by a health professional. However, if you’ve rehabbed your knee from any possible injury and still deal with dull pain during your workouts, you can incorporate movements and make adjustments to help recover and strengthen your knee. Injuries at the knee are commonly seen because it is a relatively stable joint between two mobile joints that are attached to two long bones. There are many different types of knee injuries. Typically there are common observable impairments in someone’s movement that highlight why the pain or injury may be occurring. These can be pronation of the foot/ankle, knee, and hips. Most injuries and pains occur from either bad form or mechanics, bad posture, or even repetitive stress injuries. The best solution to any type of pain is rehab and rest, however, sometimes you just need to catch a workout. If that’s the case, here are a few adjustments, tips, and exercises to address working out with knee pain:

1. Take a moment to warm-up Rehabilitation is an important aspect of strengthening any weak point. It goes without mentioning, that you should not be forcing movement with an injury. Exercising a knee with pain is more so for arthritic symptoms or stiff joints. Taking an extra 10-15 minutes to warm up your knees might seem annoying, but it makes a world of difference. Having better circulation around the area lubricates your joints and prepares the joint and surrounding muscles to experience movement. Make sure your movements are slow and controlled. There are many warm-up exercises you can research. One of my personal favorites involves using a fitness band. Standing upright, raise your knee to hip level. Then take your fitness band and place it under your foot. Lastly, you are going to press your leg down slowly and controlled, making sure you remain aligned at the hip, knees, and foot.

2. Knee Sleeves/Compression

Knee Sleeves or knee compression make working out with knee pain easier and provide many benefits. One of those benefits is increased circulation. As addressed previously, circulation equates to more lubricated articulations and prepping of surrounding leg muscles to prepare for movement. This will long-term aid in maintaining and promoting knee health. Another benefit is providing some stability to the knee. This will help in taking some tension away from the knee while maintaining tension in the muscles you intend to exercise during a leg workout.

3. Address External or Internal rotations of the foot

Your kinetic chain is the optimal biomechanics to follow to be efficient in movement. Having a good base is important as it can affect the way you carry weight during a lift. This can place an unwanted level of stress on the knee including other joints. If you change your base you are also likely to change which muscles are recruited during a lift. This can cause certain muscles to overcompensate for weaker ones, meaning the weaker muscles never develop. The body then adjusts your movement to account for any shortened or lengthened muscles; both extremes leading to weakness. This cycling effect continues to place unwanted stresses on your knee.

4. Address internal rotations of the knee and hips

Some people also experience rotations of their hips or directly at their knees. These rotations can also affect the knee in various ways and place the tension of weight in unwanted areas. If your knees and hips are rotated inwards you will not be able to hinge effectively during various leg movements. This internal rotation can be seen during some people's squats, where their knees come together during each repetition. As center gravity increases they are not able to distribute that weight effectively. As the body’s way to prevent instability, your hip adductors will become overactive and change the mechanics of your movement.

5. Heel elevation

Overpronation of the foot can also be one of the causes of knee pain. Having elevated heels during squats aids you if you struggle with hip and ankle mobility. Having low mobility in these joints puts extra pressure on the knees. Yet, overpronation happens when the foot collapses excessively inward or outward; this is commonly known as flat feet. Flat feet can affect how you are distributing weight and affect all the joints of the foot, leg, and hip. Not only, does elevating your heels help you squat deeper by mitigating the hip and foot flexibility issues (something that should be addressed separately), but it creates a false arch to take even more pressure off the knee.

6. Strengthen weak muscles

When the distribution of weight is wrong due to bad posture or bad mechanics, the body creates muscular imbalances. The muscles surrounding the knee serve the sole purpose of stabilizing the knee during movement. The main muscle groups are the Quadriceps and Hamstrings.


In worst-case scenarios, visiting a therapist may be the only solution. Making sure you’re not masking the injury and talking to a physician when there is no progress are two important reminders. The best way to work with injuries is to make an attempt at avoiding them altogether; good body mechanics, form, and not ego lifting are a good focus.

Before starting any fitness program or dietary changes, including supplementation, please consult your physician for a thorough examination.

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