For gym-goers, knee pain when performing lunges is a common problem. The location of knee pain can vary. Sometimes the pain is at the patellar tendon (patellar tendonitis) or quad tendon (quad tendonitis). It could be on the outside of the knee along with the IT band (IT Band syndrome). It may be from a meniscus injury across the joint line. It may even be on the inside of the knee and result in knee bursitis. Sometimes, the knee cap does not track properly and can cause patellofemoral syndrome.
To obtain an accurate diagnosis, an examination should be performed. Although there are differences in how you should treat each of these conditions, there are common principles that will help you overcome knee pain when you perform lunges.
Some factors that may contribute to your knee pain when performing lunges include the way your lower leg lines up with your hip, knee, and foot. Suboptimal alignment could put stress on your knee cap. If you have poor mobility of your hips and the ankle and weakness of your hip, thigh, and foot/ankle muscles, you may not be lunging with optimal technique. In addition, if you have imbalances in your core muscles or have not been taught how to lunge well, movement compensations could place stress on your knee. The best to know what is contributing to knee pain with squatting is to perform a movement assessment.
Once you know what your specific limitations are, the first common-sense recommendation is to take a short break from aggravating activity. This allows for pain and irritation to subside. If pain persists, receiving hands-on therapy can help alleviate pain faster. When pain your pain is at a manageable level, you can address the root causes of your knee pain.
If you have a weakness, learning how to engage muscles that are not firing well is key. When it comes to knee pain when performing lunges, the muscles that often need attention are the hips, quads, calf, and intrinsic foot muscles. Some exercises that are effective during this stage are the quad set, leg lock bridges, and calf raises from the floor.
Once your muscles engage better, the next step is restoring movement. To be able to lunge with good technique, you need to be able to bend at your hips, knees, ankles, and big toe. Exercises that are effective for restoring movement as it relates to the lunge include box hip-flexion, half-kneeling hip extension, and half-kneeling ankle dorsiflexion.
After you have restored movement, you need to develop strength in the lunge pattern. This will enable you to prevent the reoccurrence of pain when you squat. Exercises that are helpful in building strength in the lunge include step-up variations (forward, lateral, step-down) and lunge variations (forward, reverse, lateral, and at an angle. The rear-foot elevated split squat is another great exercise that will build strength in the lunge pattern. Resistance can be used in the form of barbells, dumbells, or kettlebells. Being able to generate tension through your hip, thigh, and foot muscles when performing lunges is key to keeping your knee healthy.
Most of the exercises mentioned above can be found in our video library.
When addressed with a specialized physical therapy program, overcoming knee pain by performing lunges is possible. However, ignoring pain and engaging in repetitive activity can result in a further decline of your knee health. If you're worried about your knee pain, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to help you.
We invite you to request a knee consultation with one of our specialists. This is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your knee pain, and foster confidence that we can help you. If you’re certain that we’re a good fit to work together, you can decide on the next step.