Why Do Kettlebell Swings Hurt My Knees?
Have you started training with kettlebells but your knees hurt during or afterwards?
Maybe you have trained with kettlebells for a while, but all of a sudden you have knee pain.
It can be frustrating, as you can’t quite put your finger on the reason why?
There are a number of reasons why you might be getting the pain, so lets take a look a little deeper as to why this could be…
Why Do Kettlebell Swings Hurt My Knees?
Kettlebell swings can hurt your knees for a number of reasons, one could be that you are new to training with KBs and your form, posture or technique may be slightly off. Small adjustments can make all the difference here. Are you hyper extending your knees/locking them when swinging? Have you recently increased the kettlebell weight and or the volume of your training? This may be too much for your body to handle. Over working the knee joint, not warming up or having a regular mobility routine in place can cause damage and pain, especially if you have had previous injuries in the area, wear and tear or you are of a more “mature” age. It could be Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, which is when you get pain at the front of your knee (more below). Always listen to your body in the sense it is telling you that there is something wrong in that area. Think about taking some time to rest and also consider some of the reasons below.
1. Check Your Technique
One of the most common reasons why you may get knee pain is down to your technique.
It could be a matter of poor technique when doing the exercise or it could just be a matter of load management (more on this later), when we do any exercise and increase the weight/kettlebell gradually, your body can adapt to it nicely.
However, if we are doing too much weight, suddenly that could load your knees too much and you feel the soreness afterwards and even the next day.
Try performing the swing without the kettlebell and check if there is still pain.
Theres a good chance you are snapping your knees back to a straightened (locked) or even a hyper extended position harder than your snapping your hips forward.
Although your knees will and should straighten at the top, your hips should be doing 90% of the work. Try driving your heals a little harder into the ground with the momentum of the KB and softening that knee snap. You’ll get more power and your knees won’t hurt.
Try changing your foot position – try moving out a little more, try a little less, try making it different for each foot, until you find a position that doesn’t hurt. Measure where your big toes are in relation to your knee caps. We are all built differently and slight adjustments like this can make all the difference.
Make sure your stance is not too wide and your feet are not turned out too much. Visualise externally rotating the hips and/or corkscrewing the feet into the ground.
If you are having trouble with this, another thing to try would be to slow down the swing and do single reps for a while. Try to really feel the momentum of the bell as you perform the swing and check your position in a mirror to iron out any postural tweaks. As you feel more comfortable, start adding more power back.
Maybe switch to doing mostly one handed swings to see if there is a difference. As doing so forces your hips to do the work and learn the movement. With two handed swings maybe you are using other muscles of the body such as arms/shoulders or knees etc..to move the kettlebell.
When you perform swings, keep a little bend in your knees. Only slightly, just so that your hips and shoulders stay in alignment. This way, you will feel your core engaging, which helps with balance and stability during the movement.
It’s easy to hurt yourself when using kettlebells and remember that the kettlebell should feel weightless in your arms the entire time. Don’t keep your legs straight. The hinge required for a kettlebell swing has a mild bend at the hip, and in the knees…but not a full extension.
Related – Why Do Kettlebell Swings Hurt My Hip?
2. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
This is when you get pain (normally a dull kind) at the front of your knee, around your kneecap (patella). It’s also known as “runner’s knee” and is common in people who take part in sports that involve more running and jumping.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome occurs when nerves sense pain in the soft tissues and bone around the kneecap. These soft tissues include the tendons, the fat pad beneath the patella, and the synovial tissue that lines the knee joint.
The pain and stiffness caused by Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) can make it difficult to walk up stairs, kneel down and perform other day to day activities.
Alignment of the kneecap and overuse from vigorous training is often a significant factor.
The pain—which usually begins gradually and is frequently activity related, may be present in one or both knees. Other common symptoms include:
- Pain during exercise that repeatedly involves bending the knee, such as climbing stairs, running, jumping or even squatting.
- Pain on the front of the knee after sitting for a long period of time with your knees bent, like in a cinema or when sat on an airplane.
- Pain in relation to a change in activity level or intensity, playing surface or equipment.
- Crackling or popping sounds in your knee when walking up stairs or when standing up after prolonged sitting.
Stop doing the activities that make your knee hurt until the pain has gone. This might include changing your training routine or switching to a low-impact activity, such as:
- Exercise bike
- Elliptical machine
These will place less stress on your knee joint.
If you are overweight, losing weight will also help to reduce pressure on your knee.
Most people recover after between four to six weeks. It might be helpful for you to see a sports medicine professional, such as a physiotherapist, sports doctor or an orthopaedic doctor (doctor who specialises in bone conditions).
3. Weight, Fitness Level And Volume Of Training
If you have been training with kettlebells for a while and the pain is recent, have you changed anything? Have you increased the volume output of your workouts? This means have you increased the amount of time you are training. Training for longer periods is a natural progression when training but maybe the extra weight of the kettlebell is causing a strain on your body?
Another simple reason you might be getting knee pain, could be that you have recently increased the weight of the kettlebell you are training with? The extra weight on your knees may have triggered the pain.
Your personal fitness level might need work. This ties in with the volume of training mentioned above. You could always dial your training back slightly or try an alternative lower impact exercise to increase your fitness levels.
Having a previous injury in or around the area will need taking into consideration too. As muscles in the area can over compensate when an injury occurs that allow you to continue to be mobile. When this happens it can put extra stress and pain on the body Longterm. This can do serious harm and needs correcting ASAP.
How often are you training and are you having enough rest in between workouts? Over training can be very dangerous and should be taken seriously.
The body needs time to recover and if you are not allowing this to happen, your body will never recover and you will be more susceptible to injury and longterm damage.
Only you can tell when and for how long you should rest after training, I work on a four day workout week with three days rest. It’s not a question of not being bothered, its more a case of how fatigued I feel as to if I do the extra day.
Theres a difference and you should be aware of this. Where should you be sore after kettlebell swings?
After kettlebell swings, your hamstrings should be sore. However, if your knees are bothering you, the problem is probably you’re hinge. Some hinging pointers – Guide the kettlebell toward your groin area as it falls.
If you are not doing it already, try doing swings barefoot….if you are wearing the wrong type of shoes, it can cause rocking and imbalances when swinging, which can cause an effect that can translates into knee pain. At times, just switching to barefooted can fix the problem.
Related – Why Do Kettlebell Swings Hurt My Feet?
Ways To Help Reduce The Pain
If you happen to to get knee pain while doing kettlebell swings, then what can you do to help reduce the pain and prevent it from coming back?
There are a few things you can do to help, lets take a look…
The RICE Method
Now this takes me back to the days of studying as a sports massage therapist. RICE is a pretty simple set of actions you can implement when you get any kind of pain anywhere on the body.
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Rest – Avoid putting weight on the painful knee.
- Ice – Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Always wrap the ice pack in a towel or some kind of material, don’t apply ice directly on skin (ouch).
- Compression – To prevent additional swelling, lightly wrap the knee in an elastic bandage, leaving a hole in the area of the kneecap. Make sure that the bandage fits snugly and does not cause additional pain.
- Elevation – As often as possible, rest with your knee raised up higher than your heart.
There are various different types of products to help reduce knee pain such as:
- Elastic knee brace supports
- Patella tendon knee straps
- Orthopaedic knee pillows
- taping & strapping
- Ice packs & heat pack
- CBD topicals
There are various ways for people of all ages to avoid a knee pain and injury.
- Avoid sudden changes in exercise intensity – Increase or decrease the force and duration gradually.
- Before exercising – warm up by walking, riding an exercise bike or doing any low-impact activity. Then stretch the muscles in front of the thigh (quadriceps) and the back of the thigh (hamstrings) to reduce tension on your tendons and relieve pressure on your knee.
- Maintain a healthy weight – If you’re overweight, lose those extra pounds. Being overweight or obese stresses joints and increases the risk of osteoarthritis.
- Riding a bicycle – make sure that the seat is high enough so that pedaling won’t put too much pressure on your knees. Measure the angle of your knee, as should be at 25 to 35 degrees to avoid knee issues and to achieve a powerful pedal stroke. Make sure your hips aren’t rocking. If they are, lower the saddle slightly.
- Strengthen your leg muscles – build strength in the areas around the knees to help maintain stability. You could walk, stair climb or doing a workout with weights.
- Wear shoes that fit properly and are in good enough condition to help maintain balance and leg alignment when you walk or run. Knee problems can be caused by flat or feet with pronation (feet that roll inward). Special shoe inserts (orthotics) custom-molded to the shape of your foot can help.
Recognise, treat And Recovery
If you do injure your knee, you might feel a popping sensation or that your knee may give out from under you. there might also be excruciating pain with the inability to walk.
Now and then you might not feel the pain right away, but develop pain and swelling 24-48 hours later.
It’s very important to get treated as soon as possible. For minor knee injuries, doctors recommend following the RICE method for the first 24 to 72 hours (details above).
Take a time out immediately after you injure yourself. Ice your knee for 20 minutes every 1-2 hours to reduce inflammation and pain.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can be helpful as well. Wrap the knee with an elastic bandage or stocking and elevate your leg to reduce swelling.
It goes without saying that taking care of your knees now will help maintain and prevent chronic pain that could lead to serious injury in the future.