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Why Do I Feel Knee Pain when I Go Up the Stairs

Understanding Knee Pain When Climbing Stairs

Knee pain, swelling, or even a grinding sensation in your knee while climbing stairs can be caused due to a range of ailments that have to do with the degradation of cartilage in the knee joints. A common case of this is chondromalacia patella, also known as "runner's knee." It is a condition characterized by the softening and deterioration of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. 

The climbing often involves repeatedly bending and straightening the knee, leading to increased friction and pressure on the damaged cartilage. This can result in pain, swelling, and a grating or grinding sensation. 

Underlying Factors Causing Knee Pain While Climbing Stairs

It is beneficial to look into the underlying factors that cause knee pain to better understand what you might be going through.

Chondromalacia Patella

Chondromalacia patella, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, is a condition where the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap becomes damaged or soft. It often causes pain at the front of the knee, particularly when climbing stairs, squatting, or sitting for extended periods. Other symptoms include a grating or grinding sensation during knee movement, swelling, and occasional instability. 


Knee pain experienced while climbing can be attributed to osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by the progressive degeneration of the knee joint. The deterioration of cartilage in the knee joint leads to increased friction and inflammation during movement, further aggravated by the climbing activity. Symptoms such as stiffness, swelling, limited range of motion, and discomfort while bearing weight are commonly associated with osteoarthritis. 

Ligament Injuries

Ligament injuries, such as a torn ACL, LCL or MCL, can contribute to knee pain during stair climbing. These injuries, often caused by sudden twists or impacts, lead to knee joint instability. When climbing stairs, increased stress exacerbates the instability, resulting in pain. Inflammation may also occur. Proper diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation, including potential surgery, are crucial for managing ligament injuries and alleviating knee pain while climbing stairs.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Knee pain while climbing can be attributed to Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), characterized by discomfort around or behind the kneecap. PFPS arises from improper patellar alignment, increasing pressure during climbing movements. The repetitive bending and straightening of the knee exacerbate tissue irritation and inflammation, causing pain. Alleviating PFPS-related knee pain during climbing typically involves strengthening surrounding muscles, improving knee alignment, and adjusting climbing techniques.

Cartilage Injury

Cartilage injury can serve as an underlying factor for knee pain while climbing. When the cartilage in the knee joint is damaged or worn down, it compromises the smooth gliding motion between the bones. Climbing involves repetitive bending and straightening of the knee, which can exacerbate friction and pressure on the damaged cartilage. This leads to pain, inflammation, and discomfort while climbing. 

Meniscus Tear

Knee pain while climbing stairs can be attributed to a meniscus tear. The meniscus, a cartilage cushions the knee joint, can become torn, disrupting smooth movement. Climbing stairs adds stress to the knee, aggravating the pain. A torn meniscus may cause discomfort and swelling and hinder fluid stair climbing. Treatment options include rest, physical therapy, and potential surgery to remove the torn meniscus and relieve knee pain during stair climbing.

Treatment Options for Knee Pain During Stair Climbing

Having identified the symptoms of knee pain, you must wonder how it can be treated. Let's look at a few treatment options that can alleviate the pain.

Rest and activity modification

Rest and modifying one's activities aid in diminishing knee pain during climbing by allowing the knee joint to recuperate. Resting allows inflammation to subside, while modifying activities to better suit the level at which you can strain the knee will reduce the chances of injuries. By minimizing excessive stress and providing adequate rest, further aggravation can be prevented, promoting healing and ultimately alleviating knee pain.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is beneficial for alleviating knee pain by aiding in the healing process, enhancing strength, and restoring mobility. Patellofemoral pain syndrome treatment strengthens the muscles surrounding the knee, improves stability, and increases flexibility. Physical therapy also utilizes ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and manual therapy to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling, resulting in effective pain relief and successful recovery.

Over-the-counter pain relievers

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as NSAIDs, can temporarily relieve patellofemoral pain syndrome by reducing inflammation and alleviating discomfort. They work by blocking pain-inducing enzymes. However, it's important to follow proper usage instructions and seek medical advice to address the underlying cause of the pain.

Assistive devices

Assistive devices, such as knee braces, crutches, or walking aids, offer assistance in managing knee pain by providing support and stability and reducing the burden on the affected joint. These devices distribute weight more evenly, alleviate strain on the knee, and promote proper alignment, leading to enhanced mobility and decreased pain.

Surgical intervention

Surgical intervention can be beneficial in addressing knee pain by treating the underlying causes that may not respond to conservative measures. Procedures such as arthroscopy, partial or total knee replacement, or ligament reconstruction can help repair damaged structures, restore joint function, and alleviate pain. 

Tips to Prevent Knee Pain When Climbing Stairs

But what are some things that we could do to prevent Knee Pain altogether? Let's look at a few tips that could be followed to do the same.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight helps as the load on the knee joints is reduced. Excess body weight increases knee stress, leading to joint degeneration and inflammation. By managing weight, pressure on the knees decreases, reducing the risk of developing or worsening knee pain.

Engage in Low-Impact Exercises

Another tip that could be followed to prevent knee pain is by engaging in low-impact exercises. Activities like cycling, swimming, or using an elliptical machine provide cardiovascular benefits and strengthen muscles without excessive knee strain. This promotes joint stability, flexibility, and overall knee health, reducing the risk of pain and injury.

Use Knee Pads for Protection

Knee pads provide cushioning and protection to the knees during activities that involve kneeling or have any general impact on the knee. The pads absorb shock, reducing pressure on the knee joint and minimizing the risk of injuries, such as bruises or contusions. 

Opt for Proper Footwear and Arch Support

Wearing proper footwear with arch support can help promote proper alignment and reduce knee joint stress. Arch support helps distribute weight evenly, improving foot stability, reducing the strain on the knees and lowering the risk of developing knee pain.

Strengthen Leg Muscles

Strong muscles in the thighs, hamstrings, and calves help absorb and distribute the forces that the knee experiences during movement, reducing the load on the joint. This helps maintain proper alignment, minimize excessive stress, and protect the knee from injury or strain, ultimately preventing or reducing knee pain.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Warm-up and cool-down exercises are essential to prevent knee pain by preparing the muscles, ligaments, and joints for physical activity and aiding in their recovery afterward. Warm-up increases blood flow, flexibility, and joint lubrication, while cool-down helps gradually reduce stiffness, facilitates proper muscle recovery, and reduces knee pain risk.

Take Charge of Your Knee Health for a Lasting Relief

Maintaining mobility and keeping your body in optimal health is vital! But doing so can be complicated, and you might not know where to begin. That's where we come in; book your physiotherapy session today and experience personalized care to strengthen, heal, and find lasting relief for your knee pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I stop knee pain when climbing stairs?

To stop knee pain when climbing stairs, consider using proper form, taking breaks, strengthening leg muscles, and seeking professional guidance.

Does climbing stairs damage knees?

Climbing stairs, when done correctly, does not inherently damage knees. However, existing knee issues or improper technique can contribute to pain or injury.

How do you strengthen your knees for stairs?

Perform knee strengthening exercises like squats, lunges, step-ups, leg presses, and calf raises, gradually increasing intensity and repetitions.

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