The knees, which are the most widely used joints in the body, bear the most load as well. From the weight they endure while sitting or getting up from a chair to walking, running, squatting, cycling, playing sports and even standing still, the knees play a role in almost every movement we make. Understandably, and also due to their intricate structure, the knees are prone to aches and injuries. Then there are the aches that arise while doing the most mundane activities, like climbing the stairs, for instance.
The pain felt while climbing up or down the stairs can range from mild to severe or even chronic, accompanied by inflammation in severe cases. While the wear and tear in the knee joints can lead to pain with advancing age, strengthening exercises for the leg muscles can keep the niggles away. Climbing the stairs is considered a good exercise for building strong legs. However, strengthening the knee muscles is crucial before starting the activity to prevent further damage. It’s essential to strengthen the leg muscles regardless of your lifestyle (active or sedentary), whether you are doing a desk job or something that requires moving about.
What causes knee pain while climbing the stairs?
The exerted force and how the knee bears it are different while climbing the stairs, which could trigger pain. “The force exerted on the knees while climbing the stairs or walking uphill is different from walking on a flat surface,” says Dr Sharath Kumar, bone and joint expert (orthopedics), Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai. “In the former, force is exerted while the knees are in flexion. It means that the knees are bent when they bear the weight. This puts additional load on the joint, which can lead to pain if the muscles around it are not strong enough.”
Apart from wear and tear, other triggers for knee pain include age-related osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, chondromalacia patella (characterized by damage or breakdown of the cartilage under the knee cap) or previous injuries affecting the ligaments of the knee. An injury to the soft tissue or meniscus can also cause locking of the knee joint.
Exercises to avoid knee pain while taking the stairs
“Sometimes there might be pain and inflammation around the knee joint,” says Dr Kumar. “In such a case, painkillers are needed to subside the pain and inflammation. Once the knee has returned to a somewhat normal condition, the individual can start with strengthening exercises for the hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles. They can also do isometric or isotonic exercises.”
The fact that climbing the stairs itself is a strengthening exercise for the lower limbs might encourage many to persist with the activity despite the pain. This can cause further damage to the knees. “Climbing stairs comes next to a proper knee-strengthening exercise regimen,” says Dr Kumar. “If an individual continuously uses the stairs without strengthening the knee muscles, they may end up with knee pain or aggravate the existing pain. Regular strengthening exercises are important for anyone above the age of 30.”
If you experience knee pain that causes instability while walking, it is important to get a medical diagnosis. Self-medication or self-treatment is harmful. Another common remedy people try is using a knee brace. “Knee braces can be used, but they don’t show any significant change in severely damaged knee joints,” says Dr Kumar. “While it gives some compression and support, it’s not useful in the long run.”
- The force exerted on the knee joint is different for different activities. While climbing the stairs, force is exerted when the knees are bent, which adds more load to the joint.
- You can avoid knee pain while taking the stairs by strengthening the leg muscles. However, if there are any underlying conditions or injuries, diagnosis and treatment are important before starting any strengthening exercise routine.
- While knee braces can provide some compression, they don’t significantly contribute to alleviating pain resulting from damaged knee joints.