knee pain when walking up and down stairs

If you experience knee pain walking up and down stairs, it can force you to alter your entire life. This is especially true if your job location or residence features staircases, and you need to climb these on a daily basis.

There are a couple different reasons you could be experiencing this discomfort, and there are also some steps you can take to remedy the problem. Before that, let’s talk about a couple of the different aspects of the knee joint that are at play here.

Brief Anatomy Of The Knee

There are so many different bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage in the knee joint that it’s no surprise how many people suffer from knee pain. It’s one of the most common sources of discomfort and anguish, in fact.

Some of the bones that connect to the knee joint are the tibia, fibula, and femur. Some of the ligaments at play are the LCL (lateral collateral ligament), MCL (medial collateral ligament), ACL (anterior collateral ligament). There is also the patella, the kneecap, and your meniscus, among other tendons as well.

Now, any one of these components of the knee can be responsible for the pain in your knee when climbing up or down stairs. But, there are a few that stand out as the most likely suspects. Let’s cover some of the most common causes of this issue now.

Most Common Causes Of Knee Pain When Walking Up And Down Stairs

Most often, pain in your knee when walking up and down stairs is caused by some issue with the patella or the cartilage under the kneecap.

There is a specific condition that’s characterized by this deterioration, known as chondromalacia.

Chondromalacia Patella 

Think about the motion of your knees when you climb stairs. You are essentially bending your knee at a greater angle than walking, over and over.

Many people don’t really feel discomfort from repetitive stair climbing, but if your cartilage has broken down, there is no cushion for your kneecap. This is where the pain comes in with Chondromalacia Patella. You’ll feel a dull pain when bending your knee and subsequently straightening it. This is the exact motion of walking up stairs, which is why that activity may lead you to realize the problem persists in the first place. 

But stair climbing isn’t the only activity that can aggravate chondromalacia. You may feel the pain with any sort of bending and straightening your leg, such as climbing hills, roller skating, running, exercising, etc.

You’ll notice that simply walking or standing doesn’t necessarily cause any knee pain – it’s only when the angle of the knee exceeds a certain degree. You can also feel/listen for crepitus or cracking of the knee joint when bending it.

What Causes Chondromalacia In The First Place?

We now know what the symptoms of chondromalacia are, but what actually causes that cartilage in your kneecap to wear down in the first place?

A lot of the time, it’s simply an overuse injury. We can’t really regrow cartilage, so as you age, this is an inevitable process. If you are very active and hard on your knees, this is something you may have to deal with at some point. 

Another possible cause is if your kneecap actually falls out of alignment. This means that the cartilage won’t actually be able to protect your kneecap, even if it’s there!

Of course, having weak muscles in your thighs and calves can also lead to this. Any weak region in your body is more susceptible to injury, and the calves and quads, hamstrings, and adductors are responsible for assisting in stabilizing the knee joint.

Treating Chondromalacia Safely & Effectively

Treatment for this condition usually involves non-surgical methods. Simply resting will help clear up some of the inflammation causing pain. The RICE method is a great place to start.

Then, you can start making some lifestyle alterations to help manage the pain from this condition. Some things you can try include low-impact exercise, such as daily walks, orthotics and shoe inserts, improving your diet to balance your nutrient profile, and more.

You should also take inventory of your sleep posture, and be sure to put a pillow between your legs if you sleep on your side. 

In some instances, more professional care is required, such as physical therapy. Some of the exercises you’ll do there to help you strengthen the surrounding muscles like we talked about earlier include:

  • Semi Squats – The important takeaway here is these are semi squats – not full squats. If you allow yourself to squat lower than 40 degrees, you’ll only aggravate the chondromalacia again. Start small.
  • Step-Ups – There are another exercise you’ll want to start small with. Because this movement mimics that of walking up stairs, it may be too much for you at first. So, be sure the step you’re using to step onto is no taller than 10 centimeters.
  • Straight Leg Raises – It’s important to strengthen the hip flexors, as poor hip health may lead to poor knee health. This exercise addresses just that.

What Else Can Cause Knee Pain When Walking Up And Down Stairs?

Chondromalacia is usually the most common, but it isn’t the only cause of knee pain when walking up and down stairs.

There are all kinds of reasons you may experience this discomfort, which is why it’s so important for you to see a doctor or professional care option to narrow down to the exact cause. Here are some additional reasons you may be in discomfort from the repetitive knee bending motion:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
  • Muscle Strain
  • IT Band Syndrome
  • Ligament Injury In Knee
  • Compensation Injury

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