6 Ways to Prevent Knee Pain When Walking Upstairs
September 03, 2022

If you live in an apartment building or apartment, you know how challenging it can be to walk up and down stairs if you have arthritis in your knees. Maybe it’s gotten to the point where you’re avoiding stairs altogether—or dreaming of moving into a one-story house. If you feel knee pain when walking upstairs it’s because you have sensitive knee joints because of how your weight shifts between your legs as you climb.

Why does your knee hurt when you climb the stairs?

Your knee connects three main bones: the thigh bone (femur), the shin bone (tibia), and the kneecap (patella). All three bones, along with their associated ligaments and muscles, must work in unison to support your weight and allow your legs to move smoothly.

With each bend, the patella, a free-floating bone, slides over the femur in the trochlear groove. Articular cartilage keeps your patella in position because it cushions and lubricates the joint so the bones slide over each other.

Damaged cartilage may not cause pain when walking. But as running, deep knee bending, squatting, or stair climbing put additional stress on the knee, the pain increases. These types of movements force the patella to slide up and down. Worn cartilage cannot hold the patella in the groove when the knee is under pressure. As the kneecap slips out of position, it causes pain. You may also feel knee pain when riding bike if you have sensitive knees.

Some benefits of walking up-stairs

Strengthening the muscles around the knee will reduce the load on the joint itself. These muscles include the quadriceps on the front of the thigh and the hamstrings on the back of the thigh. Both of these large muscle groups get a workout when you climb stairs. Your own weight is enough to make climbing stairs a challenge.

Climbing stairs also indirectly benefits the knees by helping to manage your weight. Walking up the stairs for just five minutes can burn about 45 calories. If you do this five times a week, that’s 225 calories. If you do this 50 weeks a year, you can burn 11,250 calories. A pound is about 3,500 calories, so with a little stair climbing, you can lose more than three pounds most days of the year.

Ready for a little more math? If you’re 10 pounds overweight, you’re putting 30 to 60 pounds of extra pressure on your knees with each step. Climbing stairs can help you reduce stress on your joints by burning calories and shedding pounds.

How is knee cartilage damaged?

Knee cartilage fails for many reasons. Accidents, injuries, genetic deformities, overuse, and age are five common reasons for chondromalacia. Broken bones or torn muscles can cause an imbalance of strength in the leg and pull the patella to one side of the groove or the other. The added stress can cause misalignment and pain.

Overuse injuries cause cartilage damage, especially in young athletes. Growing bones and excessive stress create a recipe for a chronic condition. If young athletes complain of knee pain in training or during competition, they should stop playing. Prolonged knee pain after activity indicates a more serious condition than normal muscle pain after a strenuous workout. If you experience knee pain after practice or a game that does not go away within 72 hours, you may need medical attention. Call your primary care provider, sports medicine doctor, or orthopedic specialist. Genetic deformities and age are risk factors you can’t change, but there are a few things you can do to avoid cartilage damage. As the damaged cartilage may also cause sharp stabbing pain in knee comes and goes.

6 ways to prevent it

  • Go up with your stronger leg, and down with the other

When climbing stairs, lead with your stronger leg (or the one that gives you less knee pain). So, When you come back down the stairs, lead with the other foot. But When you walk upstairs, you have to shift your entire body weight against gravity, so you want to have your strongest leg ready to carry all the weight. And When walking downstairs, you want to lead with the weaker leg because you have the advantage of gravity.

  • Lead an active lifestyle

Cycling, swimming – any activity that requires your knees to go through a full range of motion – will allow the fluid that is inside your knees to lubricate the knees. This helps with flexibility so the knees don’t stiffen.

There’s a catch: While all activities are great for a healthy lifestyle, some are kinder to the knees than others. “If you can choose between activities like running and swimming, I would choose swimming because it takes gravity out of the equation. Activities that pound your joints can break down cartilage more quickly. Activities that don’t put too much stress on the joints, like cycling and swimming, are great. I don’t want to run through it – it’s definitely heart-healthy exercise.

If you run, make sure you’re using proper form—and follow the rest of these tips to protect your knees! Keeping your weight in a healthy range will help preserve your knees by not putting excess weight and pressure on them. Eating a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables will also provide nutrients that are the building blocks of cartilage production. And taking an over-the-counter glucosamine supplement can also help protect your knees, as it’s an essential component in the production of cartilage. As taking a good diet also prevents knee pain when hiking.

  • Place the entire foot on the step

Narrow stairs can be especially difficult if you have arthritis because they don’t allow your whole leg to take each step. It is important that you place your foot completely on each step as you ascend so that you can push off the step with your heel rather than the ball of your foot.

If you push from your heels, you shift the work from the front of your knees and quads—which can cause pain—to your glutes, which are stronger muscles. It is also important to wear supportive footwear when climbing up and down stairs. If the arches of your feet collapse when you stand, they push your knees inward, which can cause pain and stress in your knees.

Having your knees tuck in is one of the worst things you can do when walking upstairs, so look for shoes that have good arch support and that you can walk in at home.

Consider getting a new pair of “gym shoes” just to wear around the house. This will reduce foot pain that comes from being barefoot for too long. Leg pain can make knee pain worse.

  • Carry items in the right bags

If you need to carry groceries or other items up, consider the bag you use to carry them. Skip the heavy shopping bags and totes.

Pay attention to your body’s pain signals and take a break if needed. In general, you should take breaks during a task if you tend to feel sore for more than two hours after completing it, according to UW Medicine Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. As for carrying food upstairs, this might mean taking only the perishables first and coming back for the pantry items later.

Also, don’t try to walk sideways even if you’re carrying something heavy: This requires you to use the muscles on the outside of your leg, which are weaker and may not be as reliable, Dorsey says. This can make you less stable, especially if there is no handrail.

  • Get up to move regularly throughout the day

When you’re stiff, it’s more difficult to tackle everyday tasks like climbing stairs. That’s why it’s important to get up and move regularly, especially during COVID-19 when you may spend more time at home than usual.

Simply sitting on the edge of a chair and swinging your legs back and forth can be a helpful exercise. In general, getting enough physical activity can increase your strength and flexibility, reduce joint pain, and help fight fatigue. This, in turn, can help make climbing stairs less challenging.

  • Do simple exercises to strengthen your legs

There are also targeted exercises you can do to strengthen your leg muscles, making it easier to climb stairs. They also helps when knee pain when walking upstairs. A number of exercises can help strengthen your legs. Dorsey recommends these two simple exercises in particular:

  • Toe Raises: Rise on your tiptoes for 10 to 15 seconds while holding on to a counter or dresser for stability. Lower back down. That’s one repetition; do a total of 10 repetitions.

  • Leg Raises: While standing and holding on to a counter or dresser for stability, lift one leg a few inches off the ground by bending at the knee (similar to taking a step on a flight of stairs). Lower your leg back to the ground. That’s one repetition; perform five repetitions on each side.

Both of these exercises will build your strength and balance. Of course, the reps above are just suggestions and it’s important to do what’s right for your body. For example, you might start on your toes for just five seconds—or you might want to increase your leg raises to 10 on each side.

Before starting a new exercise regimen, talk to your doctor to make sure the exercises you’re doing are appropriate for your condition.