I had knee pain for about a year, which came and went but was most pronounced at night or when I'd been sitting for a long time. I saw a couple of doctors who said it was runner's knee, then an orthopedic surgeon who actually did x-rays and MRIs and concluded I needed surgery. Had that in November - he removed some torn meninscus and said I have arthritis in the joint. I had six weeks of physical therapy and in my final week - which is when they really push you to make sure you can "graduate" and go off and do this on your own - I was doing a ton of squats, side walking squats with a band around my feet, hamstring exercises, and a lot of one-leg balancing on things like a mini trampoline and a wobble board.
Now in the gym, I do exercises that focus on strengthening the quads (to support the knee) and stretching the hamstrings (mine are insanely tight). I agree with the posters above - you must focus on form when doing squats, particularly if you have knee issues. I do plain old body weight squats, weighted squats (with a barbell), hack squats (in the machine), leg press or leg sled, hamstring curls.. the only machine I was warned away from is the quad isolator, where you lift your leg straight out in front of you - the PT said those can put a lot of sheering pressure on the joint and for my injury, that is really bad. I don't do lunges as those tend to put my knee in a position that hurts, but there are many other exercises that work my legs to jelly!
I think you should definitely get checked out by an orthopedic or sports medicine doctor, and if nothing definitive shows up on exam, they may want to refer to you a PT for non-invasive help. I wouldn't put up with pain though - I am a classic case of waiting too long and the torn meniscus ended up being stuck in my knee joint and was causing a shedload of pain and swelling - hence my need for surgery. Not fun!
Oh, and just to add - I'm now back to running regularly and riding my horse, neither of which I could do pain-free for a year or so prior to the surgery. Now I have no pain, but I still ice after every run just to make sure things don't blow up!
Last edited by julesp313; 03-17-2011 at 08:12 PM.