How To Deal With Knee Pain While Walking Up Stairs

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Knee pain when walking up and down stairs can indicate underlying issues like arthritis or patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS).
  • Performing warm-up stretches, wearing a knee brace, or using a railing for support are great short-term solutions for minimizing knee pain while climbing stairs.
  • Strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee with low-impact exercises is an excellent long-term solution for alleviating knee pain while climbing stairs.
  • If you experience knee pain when walking up stairs, lifestyle changes, such as weight management and dietary adjustments, can help minimize stress on your knee joint.
  • If exercising, stretching, and wearing braces for support do not help manage your knee pain, you may be a strong candidate for knee replacement surgery.

Knee Pain Walking Up Stairs

Climbing stairs is a routine part of everyday life, but knee pain can make this common task challenging. If you experience knee pain walking up or down stairs, it may be a sign of a severe underlying issue, ranging from arthritis to a ligament injury. Sometimes, factors like weight and footwear can also contribute to knee pain when walking up stairs. 

Understanding what is causing your knee pain will help you work around your condition without exacerbating symptoms. Depending on your situation, short-term solutions like stretching before climbing steps can minimize knee pain, while strengthening the muscles around your knee with gentle exercises can be a long-term solution to knee pain. Some people might benefit from knee replacement surgery if other treatments are ineffective.

An excellent first step is to consult a qualified medical professional to diagnose the source of your knee pain. Then, you and your medical provider can create a specialized treatment plan to mitigate knee pain and make walking up and down stairs easier.

What Causes Knee Pain While Ascending Stairs?

Knee pain while walking up stairs can result from numerous underlying conditions. Some people experience knee pain from overuse injuries like chondromalacia patella or structural issues like osteoarthritis. 

Determining the specific cause of your knee pain is crucial for deciding which targeted treatments to implement to alleviate symptoms. The following conditions are some of the most common reasons some people experience knee pain when walking up stairs.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Overuse of the knee can spark patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), a broad term for painful conditions that affect the front of the knee and around the patella. Sometimes, incorrect exercise or sports techniques can also cause PFPS. Different derivations of PFPS, like chondromalacia patella, regularly show up in long-term runners.

Runner’s Knee

Chondromalacia patella, also known as runner’s knee, is a form of PFPS caused by the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap breaking down from overuse. The kneecap rubs against the thigh bone as the cartilage degenerates, creating pain and inflammation. 

If you have runner’s knee, elevating your affected leg or using a cold pack or compression can help mitigate pain. Additionally, medicine, such as ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation.


Forms of arthritis can cause cartilage to deteriorate around the tibia, fibula, or patella, affecting the function of the knee. Due to the accompanying inflammation and grinding of bones, there is a direct link between arthritis and joint pain.

Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis, and it usually occurs from age-related wear and tear. Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, anti-inflammatory diets and alternative treatments like PEMF therapy can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.

Ligament Injuries

Specific ligaments can cause knee pain while walking up stairs. For example, tearing or damaging the following ligaments can generate severe knee pain:

  • ACL
  • PCL
  • MCL
  • LCL

Athletes and highly active individuals are more prone to injuring the ligaments in their legs. Unfortunately, many ligament-based injuries require surgical intervention. In a 2013 study of high school athletes, 76.6% of ACL injuries led to surgery.

Depending on the source of your knee pain, resting or wearing knee support could help manage your symptoms. Considering everyone’s situation is different, certain methods of avoiding stair-related knee pain will be more effective than others. Listen to your body as you cautiously test options, and contact your medical provider for professional guidance.

Get Back to Your Lifestyle

Our compassionate team at The Joint Replacement Center of Scottsdale will take all the steps necessary to help you overcome pain and ensure a smooth recovery.

Avoiding Stair-Related Knee Pain

Although avoiding stair-related knee pain isn’t usually a lasting solution, it can facilitate day-to-day life and prevent further damage as you wait for something long-term like increased muscle strength or surgery. Educating yourself on different ways to avoid knee pain when going up and down stairs can help you improve your overall quality of life.

Try out the following pain-avoidance tactics before ascending or descending stairs:

  • Perform a warm-up routine with targeted stretches like single-leg lifts or quadricep and hamstring stretches.
  • Hold onto a sturdy railing and use your upper body strength to minimize the strain on your legs.
  • Wear supportive footwear or a knee brace to reinforce your joints.
  • Engage your gluteal muscles and quadriceps for additional support.
  • Take slow and small steps to reduce the amount of knee flexion.
  • Ensure each step is controlled and evenly weighted.
  • Focus on landing softly atop the balls of your feet to minimize shock.
  • Maintain an upright posture with an engaged core and relaxed shoulders because leaning can further strain your knees.

Figuring out what avoidance and support methods work for you can minimize knee pain while walking up or down stairs. Still, exploring long-term solutions like changing your lifestyle or strengthening your knees is crucial to augment your joint health.

Knee Strengthening Exercises

By doing targeted exercises, you can strengthen leg muscles that can help support your knee joints. With stronger muscles reinforcing your knees, walking up and down steps might be more accessible and less painful in the long run. 

The following exercises are ideal for building knee strength:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts with or without added weight
  • Sidestepping
  • Leg lifts
  • Standing hamstring curls with or without a resistance band
  • Seated leg extensions
  • Single leg dip
  • Lying knee bend

Knee-targeted exercises can help strengthen the joint while improving flexibility and reducing stiffness. Nevertheless, overexerting yourself or putting too much pressure on your knee can be counterproductive and cause further joint damage. 

Ask a qualified medical professional for help developing an exercise plan to reduce knee pain. Some medical providers may suggest a lifestyle change in addition to exercising.

Advanced Methods for the Best Results

At The Joint Replacement Center of Scottsdale, we combine compassionate care with state-of-the-art technology to provide you with the best possible outcome for total and partial knee replacements.

How Lifestyle Changes Can Help

Stretching and building your knee strength are crucial to dealing with stair-related knee pain. Still, additional lifestyle modifications can help further alleviate knee pain while walking up and down stairs. The following lifestyle changes can improve your knees’ health.

Weight Management

Implementing weight management strategies, such as calorie tracking and routinely exercising, can ultimately reduce the pressure on your knees. With less weight bearing down on your knee joints, activities like standing, walking, and climbing stairs might feel more manageable.

Additionally, weight management can help decrease inflammation. The adipose tissue that makes up body fat releases cytokines, which are pro-inflammatory molecules. By controlling your body fat percentage, you can also prevent some of the inflammation and swelling around knee joints.

Dietary Adjustments 

You can change your body’s inflammation and pain levels by altering what you eat. In some cases, adding certain anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can mitigate arthritis pain

Adding the following foods to your diet can decrease inflammation:

  • Berries like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Ginger
  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard
  • Nuts like walnuts and almonds
  • Seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds
  • Tomatoes
  • Turmeric

Moreover, dietary adjustments can give your body more nutrient support, fueling your bones and joints around the knee and beyond. There are several foods that help with joint health, such as yogurt and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. Ensure you eat a well-rounded diet to reduce inflammation and nourish your body.

Holistic remedies 

When it comes to pain management, it is essential to consider both the entire body and mind. Some holistic remedies can support mental, physical, and emotional health, which can reduce the stress and impact of stair-related knee pain.

When performed regularly, meditation and mindfulness can relieve arthritic pain. Also, a lack of sleep can exacerbate aches and discomfort, so improving your sleep quality can help with knee pain while walking up stairs.

When To Seek Professional Help

If knee exercises, stretches, and other at-home solutions do not provide substantial relief, it is best to seek help from a qualified medical professional. Your provider can diagnose the problem and offer potential solutions.

For some people, joint replacement surgery is better than non-surgical alternatives. Unlike knee braces or warm-up stretches, surgery is intended to be a long-term solution. Many people feel substantial, long-lasting relief after healing from a total knee replacement. In addition to relieving pain, surgery can provide a wider range of mobility, facilitating a patient’s ability to go up and down stairs.

Get Started On Your Path To Improved Mobility

Several underlying conditions can cause knee pain while walking up stairs, including ligament tears and overuse injuries. Depending on the source of your knee pain, you might be able to achieve relief by stretching, wearing leg support, or routinely exercising to build muscle around your knees and support the joint. If at-home methods do not reduce your pain to a manageable level, you may be a strong candidate for knee replacement surgery.

Our well-versed team of medical professionals at The Joint Replacement Center of Scottsdale specializes in knee replacement and revision surgery. We use Mako SmartRobotics to make our procedures minimally invasive and provide quicker recovery times for patients. We also offer alternative therapies like ARPwave and PEMF that have the potential to reduce pain.

Contact our highly qualified team of joint specialists to build a personalized treatment plan that can relieve you of knee pain when walking up stairs.