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Knee Pain Going Down the Stairs? – 5 Causes, Symptoms & Remedies

by | 07 Nov 2022 | Pain, Explained

For those who have to climb and descend stairs as part of their daily routine, it’s crucial to take great care of your knees as they are highly susceptible to injury if you are not careful.

For adults who struggle with on-going conditions affecting their knees or athletes who have incurred sporting injuries, the stairs can feel like a daunting task. The added pressure placed onto knees when going down the stairs can cause significant pain, stiffness and could result in your knee giving way mid-step.

When does knee pain after going down stairs suggest a greater problem and what are some of the potential causes? We’ve put together this article to help you identify what causes knee pain going down the stairs, remedies for sore knees and strategies to help you face the stairs.

Read on to find out:

  • What causes knee pain going down stairs?
  • How to relieve pain in the knees from walking down stairs
  • Tips on how to get rid of knee pain going down stairs

What causes knee pain going down the stairs?

Before we look at 5 possible causes of knee pain from going down the stairs, it’s worth gaining a greater understanding of the knee’s structural form and the integrity of the knee joint in performing daily activities.

The knee joint consists of three bones; the femur (the thigh bone), the patella (the knee cap) and the top section of the tibia (the shin bone) and are held together by a collection of tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Making the knee joint one of the most complicated joints in our body.

The back of the patella is lined with the thickest layer of cartilage, designed to withstand compressive forces and high stress/shock from each leg movement. However, despite being designed to expect and absorb shock, the knee joint like any other joint in the body can cause pain and discomfort. Even the simplest daily activities such as walking, running and climbing can have a profound effect on our knees and their ability to help us function as normal.

Studying the way in which the knee moves when going down stairs might help explain the reason for an increase in pain and discomfort. Bending the knee, as you would when you go down stairs, can often feel painful as it involves both bending and adding weight onto the knee joint. For every pound that a person weighs the knee absorbs 4 times the body weight, amounting to high stress when descending the stairs.

5 causes for knee pain going down the stairs

Whilst pain in your knee is relatively common, it can be a cause for concern when they begin to hurt walking down stairs. Whilst knee pain can occur at any age, common conditions affecting the knee’s ability to move are likely to start in adults aged 40 and over.

A prior knee injury can fluctuate pain when walking down stairs, as the increase of knee bending required to go down the stairs can add greater pressure onto an already weak joint. People describe a range of knee pain symptoms but the most common are:

  • Stiffness in the knee joint
  • Swelling in and around the knee area
  • Pain which is worse when pressure is applied
  • A grinding/crunching sensation and sound

Let’s look at 5 causes for a painful knee going down stairs:

  • Knee Osteoarthritis
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
  • IT Band Syndrome
  • Ligament Injuries
  • Flat Feet

Knee Osteoarthritis

Over time, the cartilage that supports the knee can break down leading to the bones moving haphazardly and without the usual support. Common symptoms for experiencing knee osteoarthritis is; stiffness in the joint, swelling in the knee area, a clicking/grinding sound and reduced knee movements. Often found in those over the age of 50 and aggravated by activities such as cold weather, a prolonged lack of movement and going down the stairs.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Also known as Chondromalacia Patella or Runner’s Knee. This type of pain is experienced at the front of your knee around the knee cap and is often found in those who are involved in sports with intense running and jumping. Commonly caused by an overuse of the knee joints or from a prior trauma to the knee cap, such as a fracture or dislocation.

The common symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome is pain and tenderness in the front or side of the knee, a swelling sensation and/or a grinding feeling in the knee joint. Aggravated by a lack of movement such as being seated for a prolonged period of time or from movement that applies stress and weight to the knee such as walking down stairs.

IT Band Syndrome

The Iliotibial, or more commonly known as the IT Band, is a tendon running from the pelvic bone to the top of the tibia (the shin bone) and over the side of the knee. The IT Band works with ligaments in the knee, to help stabilise the knee joint. IT Band Syndrome occurs when the IT Band rubs continuously against the lower end of your femur (the thigh bone) as it joins with the knee, often causing inflammation and pain.

Similar to Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, this syndrome is caused by an overuse of the knee, often getting worse with an increase in repeated movements. If the condition progresses to a worst state, a person will experience pain from simply walking or going down stairs.

Ligament Injuries

Ligaments such as the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) or the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) act as key ligaments to help stabilise the knee joint. Both the ACL and MCL connects the femur (the thigh bone) to the tibia (the shin bone), whilst sitting inside the knee joint. Common sport related injuries such as sprains and tears of these ligaments, can make climbing stairs and descending them extremely painful.

Flat Feet

Flat Feet, also known as Fallen Arches, is a relatively common condition which occurs when the foot lacks the presence of an arch. Whilst this condition is mainly harmless, it can lead to pain overtime. A lack of arch height can lead to the overuse of other tendons in the foot and ankle, with pain migrating up the leg and into the knee. Wearing the right shoes to support the flat feet can reduce pain experienced from walking down stairs.

How to relieve pain in the knees from walking down stairs

If the pain in your knee is severe, it’s important that you get it checked out by a professional. Your local GP is the best place to discuss and understand the knee pain you are experiencing and can help you rule out other conditions that could be affecting your knees.

If you suffer with knee pain from an overuse injury such as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome or IT Band Syndrome, the best course of treatment is to stop any strenous activities that could inflame the knee joints. Get a good rest and avoid placing weight onto the affected knee.

Understandably, it is not always possible to avoid taking and descending the stairs. However, changing the way you move up and down them can help reduce some of the pain. Take a slow and gentle approach to walk down the stairs leading with your stronger leg. If pain does not go away after a few weeks, you may want to consider physical therapy to see what remedies are available to help with the knee pain.

How to avoid getting knee pain from going down stairs

If you have been sitting or laying still for a while, the lubrciants in your knee might have dried up leaving you feeling stiff and sore. However, bending and stretching the knee for a few minutes before going down the stairs can make the knee feel more comfortable.

Introducing a few stretches into your daily routine can help improve strength in your knees, giving you the proper support for going down the stairs.

Try a Step-Up Stretch:

  • Leading with your strong leg climb up a singular step, bringing your bad leg onto the same step.
  • Climb down onto the floor, leading with your bad leg first and then bring your good leg down afterwards.
  • You should repeat this for several minutes a day.

Some people find heat therapy works by placing a hot water bottle onto the knees (avoid if swollen) to relieve muscle pain and stiffness. Whilst others suggest cold therapy using ice to reduce inflammation and relieve joint pain – make sure to wrap the ice in a towel to avoid damaging the skin.

How to get rid of pain from going down the stairs

For people who struggle to get movement into the knee joints due to severe pain, remedies aimed at making this pain more manageable may be suggested. Using electrotherapy, which is when electrical currents are used to disrupt signals travelling through the nerves are used to disrupt the pain signals travelling through the nerves and effectively block pain from reaching the brain, can provide instant relief.


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