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Causes of Leg Pain When Climbing Stairs

author image Emma Cale
Emma Cale has been writing professionally since 2000. Her work has appeared in “NOW Magazine,” “HOUR Magazine” and the “Globe and Mail.” Cale holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Windsor and advanced writing certificates from the Canadian Film Centre and the National Theatre School of Canada.
Causes of Leg Pain When Climbing Stairs
A woman is hiking up wooden stairs.

Climbing stairs or ladders may cause leg pain. While this pain often subsides immediately, in some cases it may indicate a more serious injury. A muscle strain in one or more of the quadriceps muscles represents the most common cause of leg pain from stair climbing. Other possible injuries include inflammation of the rectus femoris tendon or iliotibial band syndrome.

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Quadriceps Muscle Strain

Leg pain while climbing stairs or ladders may indicate a muscle strain in one of the quadriceps muscles. Four muscles comprise the quadriceps muscle group: vastus intermedius, rectus femoris, vastus medialis and vastus lateralis. A strain in one or more of these muscles will cause pain during weight bearing flexion and extension of the knee activities such as stair or ladder climbing. Quadriceps muscle strains typically respond well to ice and heat therapy.

Rectus Femoris Tendon Inflammation

If your leg pain feels especially severe as you lift your leg up to climb stairs or ladders, this may mean that you have developed rectus femoris tendon inflammation. This condition causes pain in the leg and front of the hip, as well as stiffness. According to Dr. Richard Walker of The Pain Clinic, rectus femoris tendon inflammation is often a sign of overuse, so take a rest from stair and ladder climbing until the pain in your legs has completely subsided.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Leg pain while climbing stairs or ladders may also indicate iliotibial band syndrome. In this case, pain will be localized on the outside of the thigh and will radiate down across the front of the knee. You may also sense a snapping or popping feeling on the outer edge of the knee. Iliotibial band syndrome typically responds to ice, heat and targeted stretching exercises to encourage flexibility in the leg muscles, according to the Orthogate website.

Myositis Ossificans

In more extreme cases, leg pain when climbing stairs or ladders can indicate myositis ossificans. Myositis ossificans refers to calcification of the thigh bone, which causes it to grow into the thigh muscles. This condition may occur if you have had a thigh strain or a deep muscle bruise that has not healed properly. Besides leg pain, myositis ossificans limits range of motion and often causes a hard lump to form in the thigh muscle. Seek medical attention immediately if you develop these symptoms.

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