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How To Climb Stairs Correctly To Prevent Knee Pain

So just a few days ago we looked at how to descend stairs when you have new pain/when going down steps reproduces the pain. 

Today, I would like to show you how to properly go up a step, what you can do, how to place your feet and how to optimize the right muscle use to prevent strain on your knee and prevent pain.

What is important to remember with climbing stairs is that most of us are actually climbing stairs the wrong way, or at least not the most optimal way.

See, we tend to not use our body to facilitate that particular task. We instead prevents ourselves from using the right muscle to push ourselves up a step against gravity. In shorts, we are not doing this action with the muscle nature intended to.

A lot of the patients that I see with knee and back pain, tend to lead using their lower back muscle as well as the front of their thigh/their quads, instead of their hip muscles. 

And all it would take to do this right is using your trunk and leaning more forward to have more momentum, in order to facilitate your hip muscle to push yourself up the step.

The other common problem for people who suffer from knee pain, especially kneecap pain, is that they do not use the whole surface of their foot, particularly their heel, to propel themselves up and forward. 
Our kneecap, or patella, are embedded in our quadriceps muscles and patellar tendons to attach on our tibia. It’s goal is to assist the quad in straightening our knee with increased efficiency ( by increasing the angle at which it acts).

When we go upstairs pushing with our toes and forefoot versus the entire surface of our foot and our heel, that creates excessive pressure on our kneecap. And this is exactly the mechanism that could be responsible for your knee pain, on top of several other factors that will make your kneecap track inappropriately over your thigh bone/femur.

I get that depending on the stairs and the size of the steps and particularly the depth of the step, this could lead someone to only push with their toes if the step does not fit the length of your foot. As a general rule, it is very important to place your entire foot on the step to prevent the problem I just mentioned.

Climbing Stairs Painfree

So climbing stairs does not have to be painful on your knees. Let’s go over the tips to prevent that from happening:

  • Make sure you place your foot pointing forward on the step.
  • Make sure your heel is also on flat on the steps.
  • To keep your knee over your foot as you shift your weight forward on to your front leg: As you translate your knee over your foot just like in a lunge, you want to make sure you also shift your upper body over your pelvis and leg forward.​
  • This whole combination of movement will provide you with the appropriate momentum and positioning to activate the primary movers of this task which are your gluteal muscle. You could also actively squeeze your butt to help them activate initially, until your gluteals are strong enough to activate enough on their own.

So if you do you have pain in your knee when coming upstairs, this is where I would start.

Of course, there could be a multitude of other reasons for you to experience pain in your knee but this is a very common one and worth a try in order to alleviate your symptoms.

In another post, I will show you proper exercises to strengthen your gluteals, which will help with climbing stairs.

What questions do you have for of us?

If you suffer from chronic knee pain or have just recently started experiencing nagging pain and aches in your knee joints, now is the perfect time to address the problem. Do not ignore it… And seek for some professional help to help you manage it. This type of problem really does not go away on its own if you do not change your movement pattern nor learn what the root cause of your problem is.

If you live in the greater Seattle area, we offer a free 20 minute phone consult consultation to answer your knee questions. And if you have knee pain when you are going downstairs, please try this. Let us know how it goes in the comments.

We have helped hundreds of people in Burien, WA and the greater Seattle area avoid knee surgeries by helping them change their movements. Call, text or email us with your questions! ​
Butheau Physiotherapy
9965 10th Ave SW
​Seattle, WA 98106

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