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Steps to Relief: Stairs and Knee Pain

elderly man climbing stairs

Managing and Preventing Pain

Knee pain can result from many problems ranging from sports injuries to arthritis to gout. The complex network of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the knee joint are vulnerable to a wide range of medical problems. And when knee arthritis or a torn knee ligament strikes, climbing stairs, walking, and even standing can be painful.

But strengthening the knee is one way to both prevent knee trouble and deal with whatever knee condition you’re dealing with now. One exercise that’s simple to do is climbing stairs.

Stair Climbing Benefits

Strengthening the muscles around the knee will decrease the stress or strain on the joint itself. These muscles include the quadriceps at the front of the thigh and the hamstrings at the back of the thigh. Both of these large muscle groups get a workout when you climb stairs. Your own weight is enough to make stair climbing a challenge.

Stair climbing also helps the knees in a more indirect way by helping manage weight. If you climb three flights of stairs three times a day, you’ll burn 45 calories just from walking up those steps. If you do that five times a week, that’s 225 calories. Doing it 50 weeks a year can burn 11,250 calories. A pound is about 3,500 calories, so with a little stair climbing most days of the year you can lose more than three pounds.

Ready for a little more math? If you’re 10 pounds overweight, you’re adding 30 to 60 pounds of additional pressure on your knees with every step. So if you can lose weight by climbing stairs you help your knees in two ways. First, you strengthen the muscles around the joints. Second, you take pressure off the joints by burning calories and dropping pounds.

Get Some Guidance

For many people, stair climbing is one of the safest and easiest exercises around.  But if you want to make stair climbing a formal part of your knee rehabilitation program, talk with a rehab specialist or trainer about how many steps you should climb in your workouts. If you overdo it, you might find yourself with even greater knee pain as a result.

It’s also important to know what to watch out for as you embark on your stair-climbing routines. Talk with your doctor or a trainer about signs that you’re straining the joint. A little pain that results from a good muscle workout may be fine, but a sharp pain can signal other problems and should be a sign to stop exercising.

Likewise, if you have a heart or respiratory condition, stair climbing may be particularly difficult. If you currently experience shortness of breath or a racing heart when you climb stairs, talk with your doctor. Those symptoms shouldn’t be ignored. If you know that you’re dealing with coronary artery disease, for example, and walking up and down stairs is part of your exercise regimen, pay attention to how your body responds with each workout.

Be Careful

Some knee conditions shouldn’t be treated with careful stair climbing. Chondromalacia patella, for example, is painful condition that results when the cartilage under your kneecap is damaged. Another name for this condition is patellofemoral pain syndrome. Its most obvious symptom is increasing pain with stair climbing. The affected knee can hurt when go up or down stairs.

Chondromalacia patella is usually treated with rest and ice — and little or no stair climbing at first. A supportive brace can also help stabilize the knee. While stairs may be out of the question for a while, exercises to help strengthen the knee joint will be helpful.

Take Care of your Knees

If you’ve ever injured a knee or you experience flare-ups of gout or arthritis, you know how debilitating it can be. Healthy knees are vital for standing, walking, running, climbing, and even sitting. For those reasons, take steps to prevent knee problems. These could include stair climbing and other leg-strengthening exercises. You may want to avoid sports or activities with a high risk of knee injury, especially if you’re getting older. And as mentioned earlier, keep your weight under control to ease the burden on your knees and all your joints.

If you do experience knee pain, for whatever reason, don’t ignore it. Rehabilitation can often ease the pain and make walking enjoyable again. If your knee condition requires greater care, see a knee specialist and discuss your options. Knee replacement surgery isn’t the only way arthritic knees can be treated. Learn what you can do rather than experience a diminished quality of life due to knee pain.