Think about it: if you bend your knees, then you're doing some form of a squat. Sitting down on the toilet, in your car, or stooping down just a bit to see if the black spot on your kitchen floor is a crumb or a bug are all forms of squats. We squat everyday! Heck, if you have knees, then you WILL squat. So, how is it that when we do this everyday move in a fitness class, we start having knee problems?
1. You're Doing The Exercises Incorrectly
Okay, let's just first assume that you're doing something wrong when you're squatting. It's funny that when you don't think about it, you squat perfectly in everyday life. Yet once you get to a gym or exercise class, you would screw up your squats.
First, nobody squats with the torso upright. When you squat, your butt go back to your heels. This would cause your torso to slightly tilt forward and put your thighs parallel to the floor. Your knees would stay behind your toes. This is a normal, everyday squat that you do when sitting on the toilet.
However, come class time, people start squatting with their torsos upright. Instead of pushing the hips to the heels of the feet, they push their butts straight down to the floor as if dipping them in some sweet and sour sauce! Squatting like this would naturally push your knees past your toes, thus putting more pressure on the knees. Now, your knees are tough, durable devices that are designed to withstand a lot of pressure. But when your knees aren't in the greatest shape, then pushing your knees past your toes could hurt.
Now, do you sit down on the toilet with your torso upright? No? Then you shouldn't squat with your torso upright either. The only two times when you would squat with your torso upright are when doing a plie squat (as in ballet) or using a Swiss ball that lets you squat up and down against a wall with your torso upright. You typically don't use Swiss balls for squats during exercise classes, and doing plie squats aren't typical squats that you do in class. This would leave you to do squats the way you would do them at home.
2. Heavy Weight
Okay, so you are absolutely sure that you're squatting correctly. Even your fitness instructor agrees that your squats are perfect. So, let's assume that your knees aren't used to the amount of weight you're lifting.
In everyday life, you don't usually have any weight on you when squatting -- besides your own body weight. If you're in school, maybe you'll have a book bag. But you're usually squatting with no weight. So when you throw on any extra weight, even if the weight is VERY light, your knees could start hurting because it's not used to bending with extra weight on you.
Another thing that carrying extra weight would do is cause you to shift more of your weight to your toes, which would put more pressure on the knees. Instead of pushing your butt back to your heels so that your heels could bare much of the weight, you'll slightly bend your knees and start tilting your torso forward even more -- almost to the point where your torso is parallel to the floor. Doing this shifts your body weight and the extra weight to your knees and toes. Not only would you complain about your knees hurting, but the balls of your feet would hurt, too.
Obviously, the simple fix for this problem is to stick with body-weight squats instead of weighted squats. Once you've mastered the body-weight squats, then we could throw some extra weights for added resistance.
3. Repetitive Movement
Okay, so you're doing squats correctly WITH extra weights and you're convinced that's not the problem for your achy knees. Then maybe your knees are just not used to repetitive squatting.
Even though you squat everyday, you don't squat 100 times in one hour! If you usually sit all day long, then the few times that you would squat would be to use the bathroom, sit in your car, sit in a chair, or sit on your bed to lie down. In a fitness class, you're squatting over and over and over again and your knees are just not used to that!
Now, you could truly fix this problem by simply walking up and down the stairs more often. Walking up and down the stairs is a form of split squats (aka lunges) that require repetitive knee bending. If you ALWAYS take the escalator or elevator, then your knees won't be used to repetitive bending.
4. Knee Injury
Okay, so you've probably noticed that I've started with the best case scenario and gradually getting to the worst case. Getting an injury in your knees is a pain (really!), because unless you're willing to sit in a wheel chair until your knees healed, then you'd be repeatedly using your knees while they are trying to heal. This means a LONG healing journey for you!
What are some knee injuries? Tendinitis (tendons inflamed), bursitis (bursae balls in your knee joints are inflamed), torn meniscus (a disc that cushions your knees and keep your legs balanced), or torn ligaments (they connect bone to bone). If it hurts to walk, then you'd usually have a serious injury. If you get a sharp pain when you squat, then it could be a a knee injury.
Just because you have a knee injury, it doesn't necessarily mean you need to stop squatting. If the pain is unbearable, then of course stop squatting until your knees could heal. Personally, if I have a little pain, I won't stop squatting. I've actually exercised my way through pain before and I still healed up. Sometimes, as ironic as it sounds, exercising through pain MAY actually help heal the injury. Exercising through pain is conventionally a no-no, but then again, you know your body better than anyone else. Use your best judgment.
All right, here's the absolute WORST case scenario -- yet a scenario that could be easily fixed. First, note that "arthritis" simply means inflammation of the joints. It could mean bursitis, tendinitis, or any type of inflammation that's in or around any joints. Arthritis in itself could resolve itself with a little tender love and care.
Another form of arthritis is gout where uric acid crystallizes in your knee joints and gives you a stabbing sensation in your knees. There are plenty of fixes for this problem, but one quick fix is to take medication to help dissolve the crystals in your knees. Of course, this is just a QUICK and TEMPORARY fix. A more permanent fix is to find out why you're getting crystallized uric acid in your joints.
The worst case, however, is osteoarthritis, which actually has nothing to do with inflammation as does with DETERIORATION of the knee cartilage. In your knees, you have your thigh and shin bones connected together with ligaments to form the knee joint. At the ends of these bones are rubbery materials called cartilages. They keep the bones from grinding each other. With osteoarthritis, the cartilages wear away until they completely dissolve. Then you'll have bones grinding each other, causing intense pain that could be relieved with knee replacement surgery.
The good thing about osteoarthritis is that it CAN be reversed with weight-bearing exercises and glucosamine supplements. My father has given a personal testimonial about his knees. They were painful, but when he took glucosamine supplements, his knee pain disappeared!
Dr. Jason Theodosakis, M.D., wrote the book "The Arthritis Cure" where he strongly supports using glucosamine supplements to reverse osteoarthritis. Actually, it's really no secret that glucosamine supports cartilage health. In fact, your body produces glucosamine by mixing glucose and the amino acid glutamine to help your cartilage stay healthy.
As long as there is enough cartilage left, you could truly save your knees and repair your damaged cartilage. Now, to tell if you have osteoarthritis, you would have to get an x-ray. But if money is tight and you have no health insurance, then there is no wrong in playing it safe by taking high-quality glucosamine supplements.
AND if after reading these 5 reasons you still think your problem isn't solved, then perhaps you need an x-ray to find out what's going on. I'm pretty confident that your problem would be one of these five categories. Remember that your knees are TOUGH. They have to be as they bear about 90 percent of your body weight on a daily basis! Also remember that squatting is a basic, everyday movement that your knees were designed to do.