Knee Pain: Navigating Stairs

One of the most common conditions we see in the clinic as physical therapists is knee discomfort, and with knee discomfort, it becomes difficult to go up and downstairs. Sound familiar? While going up and downstairs, we actually increase the amount of pressure we put through our knee joints compared to just normal walking. So, it makes sense that knee discomfort is common with stair negotiation. The GOOD NEWS is stairs will not rule your life!

We’re going to discuss:

  • The anatomy of the knee
  • The importance of strength
  • How to make stairs easier

The Anatomy

Our knee joint is made up of the thigh bone, shin bone, and knee cap. When we stand and bend our knees we actually increase the amount of force and pressure that travels through our leg muscles into the front of our knee. When we go up the stairs our thigh muscles are what help pull us up, and when we go down the stairs we have to fight the forces of gravity to keep us from flying down the stairs too fast.

Making Stairs Easier

The strength of our leg muscles is extremely important for navigating stairs and for the overall stability of the knee. A strong knee equals a more stable knee. To build up strength in your thigh muscles and the rest of your legs there are numerous exercises and modifications you can make including squats, changing the level of the step, and changing your foot placement. Mini squats are a good exercise, away from the stairs, that still strengthen the muscles you need for the stairs. As you get comfortable with shallow squats, you can gradually sink lower into a squat to make those muscles work a little harder.
Like all exercises, we need to start slowly and gradually increase our level of difficulty. An easy way of doing this for stairs is to first start on a lower step or platform that is shorter than a standard step. Once you get comfortable with repetitive step-ups on a smaller step, you can progress yourself to a standard step height of about 7-7.5 inches.
Another common phrase to think of when dealing with stair negotiation is “up with the good and down with the bad.” In this instance, the knee that bothers you is your “bad knee” and the one that is less symptomatic is your “good knee.” Until you are able to build up the strength and stability in your knees to go “one foot after the other,” going one step at a time is a less strenuous method. When going upstairs, lead with the “good knee” and follow with the “bad knee” on the same step. Up with the good. On the contrary, while going down the stairs lead with the “bad knee” and use a railing as you follow with the “good knee.” Down with the bad.

What Does This All Mean?

We spend all day walking around, getting up and down from chairs, doing house chores, and running errands. We are putting pressure on our knees all day long, so it’s no surprise that they can be bothersome every now and then. If you are having difficulty with going up or downstairs try some of these tips, exercises, and modifications to help make your life a little easier.

If you would like a little more information, check out the video below! Don’t let your knees control your life!

If you want your knee looked at by a physical therapist, click below to set up a FREE discovery visit using the link below!

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