Leg weakness isn't unusual when you've been exercising aggressively or when you have a bout of the flu. But when you start to notice leg weakness while climbing stairs, then it might indicate a more serious underlying condition.
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Don't assume your experience is just a part of aging, and head to a doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause and get appropriate treatment.
Read more: Causes of Fatigue & Aching Legs
Leg Weakness Climbing Stairs
A number of conditions could cause leg weakness while you're climbing stairs. You'll want to get checked out by a doctor to rule them out. Addison's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are neurological disorders that can cause heaviness in your legs while climbing stairs.
Addison's disease is a disorder that occurs when your body produces inadequate amounts of adrenal gland hormones, causing muscle weakness and fatigue, muscle or joint pains, weight loss, skin darkening, and low blood pressure. It's an autoimmune disease, and in most cases, the cause is unknown. Treatment includes steroids and androgen replacement therapy.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement, in which the cells waste away and die. There is no cure, and patients eventually are unable to move and may even be unable to breathe. Prognosis isn't good, but certain medications can help alleviate symptoms.
Read more: How to Strengthen Weak Legs
Nerve Compression and Leg Weakness
Compression of nerves in your lower back or legs can cause weakness or heaviness in your legs while climbing stairs. Nerves can be compressed at the spinal cord or further down the leg.
Entrapment or compression of the femoral nerve in the thigh can cause difficulty with stair climbing. The femoral nerve runs from your spine into your thigh and helps supply sensation and the ability to move the quadriceps muscles. Injuries, diabetes and inflammation can damage the nerve and cause groin and leg pain and weakness walking upstairs. Treatment depends upon the cause of the condition.
Lumbar radiculopathy can cause leg weakness. This can occur when one of the rubbery cushions between the individual bones in your spine pushes out through a crack in the exterior and irritates nerves, causing pain, numbness or weakness. Therapy includes pain medications, steroid injections, physical therapy and, in rare cases, surgery.
Poor Blood Circulation
Vascular disease, or conditions that affect blood circulation in your body, can also cause leg weakness while climbing stairs. Peripheral artery disease and deep vein thrombosis are two conditions in this category
Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs. In addition to leg numbness or weakness, you may experience painful cramping in your hip, thigh or calf muscles after climbing stairs or walking. Medications, angioplasty, surgery and lifestyle changes are typically prescribed.
Deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, are clumps that occur when the blood hardens inside a blood vessel, most often inside the lower leg. Pieces of the clot may break off and travel to the heart, lungs or brain, which is called an embolism. Symptoms can include leg pain, heaviness and weakness, sometimes accompanied by swelling, heat to the touch and discoloration. Treatment includes blood-thinning medications.
Building Muscle Strength
If your doctor rules out a medical condition, you might just need to strengthen the muscle in your legs. This can be done with regular lower-body strength-training.
Some effective strength exercises for your legs include:
- Mayo Clinic: Addison's Disease
- Mayo Clinic: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: Nerve Entrapment in the Hip Region: Current Concepts Review
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Radiculopathy
- Mayo Clinic: Peripheral Artery Disease
- MedlinePlus: Deep Vein Thrombosis
- ACE: Glute Activation Lunges
- ExRx.net: Lunge
- ACE: Box Jumps
- ExRx.net: Split Squat
- ACE: Standing Calf Raises - Wall
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.