Stair Climbing & Knee Health

Climbing stairs provides an effective workout whether you're scaling steps in a building or using a stair climber. The activity does come with risks to your knees, however. You need to know the potential signs and symptoms of troubling knee conditions and try to prevent them with exercises to strengthen the knees.

A woman is climbing up concrete stairs. (Image: ivansmuk/iStock/Getty Images)

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome occurs when the patella, or knee cap, no longer tracks properly along the groove in the femur, which is the bone in your thigh. This results from overuse of the knee, and is common among stair climbers. The intense pain feels as though it's coming from behind or around the knee cap. Treatment involves rest, elevation, icing and then physical therapy, which focuses on exercises to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the knee cap.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Another common condition among stair climbers is iliotibial band syndrome. The iliotibial band is a length of thick fibrous tissue that starts at the hip and crosses over the knee. Frequent flexing from stair climbing can result in irritation between the iliotibial band and the knee cap. You'll feel the resulting pain right across the knee, which becomes more intense as you go up or down stairs. Treatment involves resting and icing the knee to reduce pain and swelling, then physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that support the knee.

Quadriceps Strengthening and Stretching

Strengthening the muscles that support the knee during stair climbing is crucial to maintaining knee health, preventing injury and rehabbing injuries. Focus first on the quadriceps in the front of your thigh, which help stabilize the knee cap. Strengthen the quads by lying on your back with your torso propped up on your arms, your left leg bent and your right leg straight out in front of you. Tighten your thigh muscles and lift your right leg off the floor a few inches. Hold for five seconds, then switch legs. Do two sets of 10 repetitions. After strengthening, stretch the quadriceps by standing behind a chair, grabbing your right ankle and gently pulling it up toward your back. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then switch legs. At the gym, perform leg extensions for effective quad strengthening.

Hamstrings Strengthening and Stretching

The hamstrings are a group of muscles in the back of your thigh that also support the knee during stair climbing and are vital to good knee health. Hamstrings can be strengthened with curls. Stand behind a chair with your legs together and raise your right foot toward your buttocks to a 90-degree angle. Hold it for five seconds, then lower your leg. Do two sets of 10 repetitions on each leg. Stretch the hamstrings afterward by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Slide your hands down your legs as far as you can go. When you feel a burning sensation, hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then slowly return to a sitting position. At the gym, perform leg curls to strengthen your hamstrings.

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