Are Squats Safe For Your Back and Knees?
Updated: Jan 15
A common advice given by some fitness and healthcare professionals is to avoid deep squats in order to prevent back and knee injuries.
But what does science have to say regarding this movement? Is it harmful or beneficial? Should we refrain from deep squats?
An essential movement
A squat is a movement in which a person lowers their hips from a standing position and then stands back up. During the descent of a squat, the hip and knee joints flex while the ankle joint dorsiflexes; conversely the hip and knee joints extend and the ankle joint plantarflexes when standing up. Although squatting is most commonly known as a strength exercise, the majority of people do need to squat on a daily basis. Think of when you sit on a chair or on the toilet, that requires doing a squat. So this movement is inevitable in order to move independently.
Beneficial or dangerous?
There are some controversies whether it is safe to squat past 90 degrees. Although compressive forces in the knee increase as we squat deeper, our knees are capable of adapting to increased loads, as far as the increase is gradual. Studies conducted on healthy adults show that squatting does not damage your knees and back. On the contrary, it helps to improve lower body strength and it is generally good for your health, with benefits outweighing the risks. Not only muscles, but also ligaments in the knee joint increase in size under the stimulus of strength exercises. Squatting trains the quadriceps, adductors and gluteus muscles, which are some of the biggest muscles in the human body. Increased muscle strength is associated with reduced risks of several health issues, including cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
What if I have a back or knee injury?
If you have a previous meniscus or patellofemoral injury and you feel pain after you pass a certain angle, it is definitely advisable to limit the range of motion of your squat. People with patellofemoral pain often finds more comfortable to squat using the sit back cue, where you move your hips posteriorly in order to prevent your knees from travelling forward excessively. This reduces the amount of stress on the knee joint. If you are having back pain, adopting a wider stance might help to keep your torso more upright and reduce the pressure on the lower back. Every individual's anatomy is different so there is no single form that fits everyone's needs. There are some instances where you want to rest completely from squatting. For example, some knee operations require restricted range of movement for a certain period of time in order to let the tissue heal. If you had an acute injury or a surgery, a physiotherapist can guide you through a rehabilitation program and advise you on how to progress your range of motion.
Squatting is a movement that is part of our daily life. As an exercise, it is excellent to improve lower body strength. Squatting past 90 degrees does not cause any damage in healthy individuals. People with knee injuries might need to adjust the form and depth of the movement in order to squat pain free. If you are currently having pain when squatting, consult a doctor or physiotherapist to get an individual assessment and treatment plan.