Ever had knee pain when going up or down stairs? Knee pain is the second most common chronic pain. So at some point we have all felt that twinge in the knees and asked ourselves if our joints have finally given in? Well fear not in most cases knee pain has a cause that can be managed.
One of the times knee pain is felt is normally during ascent and decent on stairs. Probably because this is one of the most stressful activity on the knees. So if there was any underlying problem it is most pronounced on stairs.
Walking upstairs exerts a force of up to 2.5x a person’s body weight on the knee. So if you are 70 Kg the weight on your knee is 175 Kgs. This isn’t the worst of it, when going down stairs its 3.5 x more so it would be about 245Kgs on the knee at a go.
For such a small surface area, this is a lot to carry—which explains why so many people struggle descending stairs.
Just for perspective here are some of the activities and the force applied on the knees.
Walking: 0.5x body weight
Climbing Up Stairs: 2.5x body weight
Going Down Stairs: 3.5x body weight
Running: 4.5xbody weight
Squatting: 7-8x body weight
It really highlights why some activities cause so much pain in the knees!
One stair may not be a big deal but most houses and buildings require you to do more than 5 steps to get to the next level.
In light of such if there is a problem or a dysfunction in the knee, maybe a past injury poorly healed, wear and tear, weakness will be most felt on stairs.
The repetitive high stress is what shows the problems in the knees that give the pain and discomfort.
Some of the major pre existing problems that would cause knee pain when taking stairs are,
1) Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
This is more frequently known as jumper’s or runner’s knee and refers to front knee pain. The most commonplace cause of knee pain, it occurs when irregular movement takes place in your patella (knee cap), causing damage to the soft tissues around your knee joint.
Symptoms include grinding or clicking in the knee when moving the joint or swelling and pain in the knee cap.
There are several reasons why you may be experiencing patellofemoral pain when going down stairs. It may be because of anatomical abnormalities, flat feet, or muscle weakness and can occur at any age.
2) Muscle Strain
Minor muscle injuries are usually not serious and will heal with time, but if the affected muscles are around the knee, this can cause pain when going down stairs.
3) IT Band Syndrome
This injury is often caused by repetitive knee-bending activities like running, biking or hiking. The iliotibial, or IT, band is a tendon that runs from the pelvis to the top of the shin and over the side of the knee. Because of its connection to the knee, if your IT band is inflamed, you may experience severe knee pain when climbing stairs.
4) Ligament Injury
Ligaments like the ACL and MCL connect to the knee. If you have had an injury where these ligaments are sprained or even torn, this will cause pain when climbing stairs. Knee ligament injuries may be serious and may require surgical intervention.
5) Compensation Injury
When you sustain an injury to your foot or ankle, it can change how you stand and walk. By compensating for the injury, you alter your body’s biomechanics and put excess load on the knee when going down the stairs. This can cause pain and may require biomechanical intervention to correct your gait.
6) Knee Osteoarthritis
Over time, the cartilage that supports your knee can break down or degenerate, causing bones to move irregularly and without adequate cushioning. Symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include grinding or clicking in the knee when moving, inflammation, pain, and stiffness after periods of sitting or lying down.
There is no cure for knee osteoarthritis, but it can be addressed with both invasive and non-invasive treatments (physiotherapy).
So, while taking the stairs is undoubtedly a great exercise for your overall health, it does put a lot of stress on the knees—especially when going down.
What to do about it?
- Weakness and muscle imbalances are easily managed by exercises and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the knee for improved stability.
- Supportive aids such as braces, splints, therapeutic taping may help in reducing knee pain but ensure to get the right device for your needs.
- Weight management has also been known to help reduce the strain on your knees which in turn reduces pain.
- Addressing any underlying causes of knee pain when climbing or descending stairs. Often, pain indicates a misalignment, weakness, or injury that is manifesting in knee pain.
There is no reason why knee pain should get in the way of your everyday activities, and if it is, consult your physiotherapist for more serious interventions.
Joy W. Waihenya
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre