Knee Click When Squatting? 3 Potential Causes + Helpful Solutions

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Many people have a love-hate relationship with squats. They are notoriously difficult and thus uncomfortable, but also highly effective for strengthening and sculpting the lower body.

However, performing squats is not always smooth sailing. Some people experience a knee click when squatting.

This may either be an audible click, or you may just feel a click in the knee when squatting.

So, what causes knee clicking while squatting? Are clicky knees when squatting problematic? Is there anything you can do to prevent a click in the knee when squatting?

In this article, we will discuss the common causes of knee clicking when squatting and different strategies to help prevent a click in your knees when squatting.

We will cover the following: 

  • Why Does My Knee Click When Squatting?
  • Is It Bad If My Knees Click When I Squat?
  • Fixing Knee Clicking When Doing Squats

Let’s dive in! 

A person holding their knee at the gym.

Why Does My Knee Click When Squatting?

Before we delve into ways to potentially prevent or fix a knee click when squatting, let’s start with the basics.

What causes your knee to click when squatting?

#1: Fluid and Pressure Changes

Most people assume that a click in the knees while squatting is due to a tendon in the knees snapping over a bony prominence or some other connective tissue snapping or popping as you move.

While in some circumstances, tendons can make snapping sounds or sensations that can contribute to clicky knees when squatting, the more common cause of a knee click when doing squats is actually due to pressure changes in the fluid- and air-filled pockets in the knee joint.

A person holding their knee at the gym.

Our bodies are close-pressured systems, and the knee joints have a joint capsule surrounding them.

This joint capsule is filled with a lubricating fluid known as synovial fluid, which acts like motor oil to help lubricate your joints and the ends of your bones where they meet so that you have smooth movements.

There is also blood, cartilage, gel-like cushions called the menisci (singular: meniscus), many ligaments, tendons, and the ends of the bones in the knee.

While the joint capsule sounds like a crowded space, and in many ways, it is, there are also plenty of air pockets and open space for the fluid to move around.

A knee click when performing squats is often due to pressure changes within this joint capsule that force some of the fluid or air to move around, which can cause audible or sensory clicking or popping.

A person squatting.

#2: Muscle Imbalances

Another potential cause of knee clicking while squatting is muscle imbalances.

The quads, which are a group of four muscles that run down the front of your thigh from the hip to the knee joint, are primarily responsible for keeping your patella, which is your kneecap, in its proper position when you perform a squat or otherwise bend and straighten your knee.

If there is an imbalance between the quad muscles on the medial (inner) portion of the thigh (namely, the vastus medialis) versus the lateral (outer) side of the quad (vastus lateralis), the kneecap may not track properly along the knee joint when you perform a squat. 

The dominant muscles may pull the kneecap towards the direction of these stronger muscles, which can cause the patella to be a little off its “groove.”

Ultimately, this type of muscle imbalance often contributes to developing runner’s knee, or patellofemoral syndrome.

A physical therapist checking out a patient's knee.

#3: Knee Osteoarthritis

For older individuals, a common cause of clicking knees when squatting is due to some degenerative changes within the knee joint. 

As we age, the cartilage surrounding the ends of the femur and tibia can thin and become somewhat frayed, and the joint space can become compressed.

This leads to knee osteoarthritis.

Knees that are arthritic can click when you squat because the cartilage surface is not smooth. Different portions of this tissue can clash or enmesh with one another rather than gliding smoothly in a frictionless interface.

This can cause a clicking sound when doing squats or bending and straightening the knee.

A class of people kettlebell squatting.

Is It Bad If My Knees Click When I Squat?

The good news is that in and of itself, knee clicking when squatting is not inherently problematic.

As mentioned, it’s usually just a natural and expected shift in fluid or pressure within the knee joint capsule.

In fact, even if your knees click every time you squat, it’s not necessarily problematic.

Moreover, many people experience occasional, or even frequent, clicking knees when squatting, so it’s certainly not an uncommon sensation.

However, there are instances where clicking knees when squatting can be concerning or indicative of other issues.

When the knee clicking during a squat is accompanied by pain and/or instability in the knee joint, it warrants further attention.

In other words, if it hurts your knees to squat, or if your knees or quads feel shaky, wobbly, difficult to control, or like they might give out, you should get an evaluation by a physical therapist or orthopedist to identify potential underlying issues.

Bodyweight lunge.

Fixing Knee Clicking When Doing Squats

Fixing clicking knees when squatting will largely depend on the underlying cause of the knee click.

In cases where it is just due to changes in pressure, there is little to do. 

However, a good warm up will help work out these “kinks” and get the synovial fluid and blood circulating through the knee joint, which may prevent clicky knees when you do squats in your workout.

#1: Warm Up 

A good warmup before a squat-based leg workout should include some light cardio exercise to warm up the body, along with dynamic stretches and activation exercises

Foam rolling can also be helpful to loosen up tight quad muscles and hip flexors, which might contribute to clicking knees doing squats.

For the cardio warm-up, a few minutes on an exercise bike, rowing machine, or elliptical can be helpful. 

These activities not only increase body temperature, heart rate, and circulation, but they also help move the knee through a wider range of motion so that you are more ready to have the functional range of motion you need when you squat.

A person warming up on a field.

For dynamic stretches and activation exercises, you want to focus mainly on hip and ankle mobility, which can, in turn, help reduce stress on the knee joint.

Because the lower limb joints (namely the ankle, knee, and hip) are connected in the kinetic chain, tightness or impaired mobility in one joint can lead to a need for overcompensation or extra torque on another joint.

For ankle mobility exercises before a squat workout, you can do ankle circles, heel walks and toe walks, and single-leg calf raises off a step, making sure that you are maximizing your range of motion by sinking your heels as deep as possible during the eccentric portion of the exercise.

There are lots of possible hip mobility warm-up exercises you can perform prior to squatting workouts.

Examples include hip swings and hip circles, walking lunges, a lunge matrix, resistance band X walks, Cossack squats, and hurdle stepovers.

After dynamic warm-up exercises, doing a warm-up set of bodyweight squats can also be helpful, holding or pausing in the lowered squat position for 5 to 10 seconds before exploding back up. 

Jump squats and burpees are also excellent dynamic warm-up exercises before squat workouts.

Foam rolling a hamstring.

#2: Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release that can help tissue mobility and fascia health.

Tight fascia can lead to muscle tightness, which may cause stiffness in the knees and excessive pressure.

This, in turn, may cause clicking in the knees when squatting.

Additionally, foam rolling your legs can provide a variety of other benefits, including relieving muscle pain and tension, assisting exercise recovery, reducing muscle soreness after exercise, improving flexibility and range of motion, and even potentially improving exercise performance.

Good foam rolling exercises for the knees include foam rolling the quads, hip flexors, adductors, hamstrings, calves, glutes, IT bands, and shins.

Check out our guide to foam rolling leg exercises here.

A person doing a bodyweight squat.

#3: Strength Training

Lastly, in cases where muscle imbalances contribute to patella tracking issues that cause clicking knees when squatting, strengthening the weaker muscles can help ensure the patella tracks properly as you bend and straighten your knee.

Building strength in your VMO or weak hips is one of the best ways to prevent knee clicking during squats.

Examples of exercises to perform to treat this cause of clicky knees include clam shells, side-lying leg raises, resisted glute bridges with a resistance band around your thighs, single-leg mini squats, donkey kicks, straight leg raises, and quad sets.

For another common issue during squats, check out our article about butt winking during squatting here.

A kettlebell squat.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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