Managing and preventing pain

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

Strengthening the knee is one way to prevent knee trouble and deal with a knee condition you already have. One exercise that’s simple to do is stair climbing.

Strengthening the muscles around the knee will decrease the stress 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 benefits the knees indirectly by helping to manage your weight. By walking up steps for just five minutes, you can burn about 45 calories. If you do that five times per 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. Climbing stairs can help you take pressure off the joints by burning calories and dropping pounds.

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, you should talk with a rehab specialist or trainer. Ask them how many steps you should climb in your workouts. If you overdo it, you might find yourself with worse knee pain.

As you embark on your stair-climbing routines, know what to watch for. 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 sharp pain can signal other problems and should be a sign to stop exercising.

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

Some knee conditions shouldn’t be treated with careful stair climbing, however.

For example, chondromalacia patella is a 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 you 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 lessen the pain. While stairs may be out of the question for a while, other exercises to help strengthen the knee joint will be helpful.

If you’ve ever injured a knee, or if 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, you should 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 keep your weight under control to ease the burden on your knees and all your joints.

If you have knee pain for any reason, don’t ignore it. Rehabilitation such as exercise can often ease the pain and make walking enjoyable again. If your knee condition requires more care, see a knee specialist and discuss your options. Learn what you can do to relieve your knee pain and improve your quality of life.