What Causes Knee Pain While Lunging?

Lunges are excellent dynamic strength exercises for the lower body but can cause pain if not performed properly. Past knee injuries, poor core strength and tight muscles may also contribute to knee pain during lunges. If knee pain persists after improving technique, muscle strength and flexibility, consult your physician.

A man straining his knee by lunging forward beyond his ankle. (Image: hjalmeida/iStock/Getty Images)

Injuries and Risk Factors

Previous injuries that may cause knee pain with lunges include a knee sprain, meniscus tear, muscle strain, tendinitis and bursitis. Patellofemoral pain syndrome, IT band syndrome and arthritis may also lead to knee pain during weight-bearing exercises such as lunges. If you suffer from a recent knee injury, ice and do not perform lunge exercises until you are recovered and pain-free. Other contributing factors include leg length discrepancy, improper footwear and muscle fatigue.

Technique

Improper lunge technique can cause more stress on the knee, aggravating old injuries and hurting your knees. Common lunge mistakes include lifting your front heel off the floor, bending your front knee too early, bending your front knee too forward over your foot and a slumped posture. In addition, make sure the rear knee is aimed directly at the floor as opposed to cranked out an angle. When performing a lunge, maintain firm abdominals and a straight posture, but allow the torso to move slightly forward with your hips and knees. Keep most of your weight in your front heel and big toe while using your back foot for balance. Slowly push your hips back before bending your front knee and lowering yourself to the floor. Perform lunges in front of a mirror to learn proper technique.

Strength Imbalances

One common problem is stronger and more dominant quadriceps muscles compared to your hamstrings. When you lunge you may overuse your quadriceps, underuse your hamstrings and have poor hip and knee mechanics. The excessive pulling from your dominant quadriceps muscles may also cause irritation to the soft tissue around your knee, leading to knee pain. Your hip abductor muscles may be weaker than your adductor muscles or vice versa, causing poor knee alignment and pain as well. Performing strengthening exercises for the hip abductors and adductors, quadriceps and hamstrings may improve strength imbalances and diminish pain with lunges.

Flexibility

Tight quadriceps and hip flexor muscles can pull on the tendons around your knee, causing inflammation and tendinitis, which can be painful with lunges. Tight muscles around your knee may also inhibit hip and knee movement and increase pressure in your knee joint, leading to discomfort. Warming up and stretching tight muscles before and after lunging may alleviate knee pain.

Stabilization

Poor core stability may cause unnecessary rotation or collapsing of your knee joint during lunges, which could cause injury and pain. Your hip and abdominal muscles help stabilize the knee during weight-bearing activities like lunging. Strengthening your hip and abdominal muscles with single-leg balance exercises and planks or other core exercises may reduce knee instability and pain during lunges.

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