Climbing stairs everyday is an unavoidable situation. It could be a set of steps at home or navigating a curb in the parking lot. Even though it may seem like a simple task, it can be challenging. One common thing I hear a lot in the clinic is “going up the stairs is pretty easy, but going down is much more difficult.” In this article, I will discuss:
- Why going downstairs is more challenging than going up?
- What role our hips have in going up and downstairs?
- One exercise to improve stair navigating
Compared to ascending steps, the descent of stairs puts a greater force through your knee (1). Walking downstairs puts 346% of our body weight through your knee compared to walking upstairs which puts 316% of your body weight through your knee! (2) To help understand this, if a person weighs 185 pounds, they are putting nearly 650 pounds of force through the knee when descending stairs!
What affects the pressure on our knees?
Because our knee is sandwiched between our hips and ankles, we need good flexibility and strength both above and below our knees. But let’s focus on our hips today. If we are lacking strength at our hips, it puts more force and pressure on our knees. Our hip muscles are made up of larger muscles called our glute muscles. Research shows that knee pain during stair navigating is consistent with weakness at our gluteus medius. (6). And as we gain life experience, our strength declines. But the good thing is that there are things we can do to improve our strength in our glutes to help with stair navigating.
Check out the video below to learn an exercise that improves our hip strength to help navigate stairs easier.
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6. Brindle TJ, Mattacola C, McCrory J. Electromyographic changes in the gluteus medius during stair ascent and descent in subjects with anterior knee pain. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy. 2003 Jul;11(4):244-251.