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Active Aging: Tips for Stair Climbing with Painful Knees

By April 27, 2018 March 9th, 2019 No Comments
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With a few simple exercises and a change in how you climb stairs you can decrease your knee pain.

There are several reasons why people have pain in their knees while climbing stairs. It may be due to weakness in the muscles supporting and acting on the knee, osteoarthritis in the joint or an injury such as a fall on the knee or chondromalacia (painful knee cap, or runner’s knee). Regardless of why you have pain, the following exercises will help.

Sit to stand from a chair

Completing this activity 10 times 3 times per day will improve you knee strength. If this is too painful from chair height, do it from your bed or a chair with a cushion so the knee bend is not as deep. Complete without using your hands, and once you can do from a higher height 10 times easily lower the height of the chair to increase knee bend. When in the full standing position complete full hip extension by squeezing your glutes.

Knee extension in sitting

Seated knee extension reduces the impact on the knee because it is a non-weight bearing activity. Simply kick the lower leg out into full extension 10 times on the right and then the left for 3 sets. Once this is easy, add weight to your ankle to increase the intensity of the exercise.

Step ups

If using a regular sized step 8” high, is too painful to start, try completing step ups on a lower surface such as a book, or curb. Complete 10 times on the right and 10 times on the left for 3 sets. As you become stronger increase the height of the step or add weight in your hands. Remember to complete full hip extension.

How to climb stairs

When going up stairs we tend to place the ball of the foot on the step, lean forward and the knee bends past the toes while your centre of gravity travels forwards outside of your body. As you step up  using this position, this places extra stress on the knee cap which can be painful. This pattern loads the quadriceps, front of the thigh, and when completing this repetitively it causes pain and irritation in the knee.

Try placing the full foot on the step, loading the mid foot to heel and push up thru the heel activating the hamstrings and glutes. This pattern displaces the centre of gravity within the body and utilizes more lower extremity muscles, thus decreasing the load on your quadriceps and knees.

Article Written by Laura Doyle, Registered Physiotherapist BHSc (PT), B.Ed., B. KIN

As a registered physiotherapist, Laura works at McMaster Family Practice. She sees patients while promoting healthy living and aging along acute and chronic health conditions. Laura is a Member of the Momentum community who makes time at lunch to workout. She is passionate about moving every day to maximize function and fitness throughout the lifespan.