Walking makes you feel great. It boosts your energy, lifts your mood and revs up your metabolism. However, trekking up hills may leave you ready to park your walking shoes once knee problems set in.
Knee pain while walking uphill is usually caused by one of two common knee syndromes. Both are challenging but treatable. In the meantime, limit your walking to flat surface and make sure to stretch after you exercise.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome — Runner's Knee
One of the most common knee problems is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and you'll feel this acutely when you're walking uphill or climbing stairs. This condition, also called Runner's Knee, can cause knee pain when walking downhill or down stairs, according to Mayo Clinic.
It's considered an overuse ailment, the result of the patella, or knee cap, not tracking properly along the groove in the femur, the bone in the thigh. Walking uphill requires repeated bending and straightening of your knee joint which causes the patella to rub against the femur.
While they symptoms of PFPS occur at your knee, the problem might originate at your ankle or hip. Muscle imbalances and foot arch position can contribute to kneecap alignment.
Treatment for Patellofemoral Pain
Treating patellofemoral pain requires a visit to your doctor or physical therapist. For the first few days, your doctor might advise you to rest your knee from aggravating activities, ice it for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every few hours and possibly take anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen.
When the pain subsides, you'll work on exercises to strengthen the quadriceps, the four muscles in your thigh which help to stabilize the knee cap.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome typically improves with conservative treatment. In addition to physical therapy, you might need orthotics, or shoe inserts, to help stabilize your feet and ankles while walking, according to Cleveland Clinic.
A small percentage of patients do not respond to therapy and may need to have a surgeon resurface the underside of the knee cap.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
Another common knee problem when walking uphill is iliotibial band syndrome. The iliotibial band starts at your hip, travels down your leg and crosses your knee cap. It is made of thick fibrous tissue. Knee pain when bending the knee repeatedly while walking, especially uphill, can irritate the iliotbial band, according to Cedars-Sinai.
That inflammation causes knee swelling and lateral pain across the knee cap that you feel more intensely when going uphill. The pain is often so bad that you'll have to stop exercising completely.
Treatment for the Iliotibial Band
Initial treatment for iliotibial band syndrome is similar to other soft tissue injuries — rest, ice and antiinflammatories. Physical therapy is often prescribed to stretch tight muscles, strengthen weak muscles and address altered biomechanics that contributed to your condition. Your doctor might also inject steroid medication into the affected area.
In rare cases, conservative treatment does not work and you might need surgery.