Knee Exercises for Going Down Stairs

Man running up steps at sports stadium, elevated view
Leg exercises can help make going down stairs easier on the knees. (Image: Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

When you have knee problems, going down stairs can become painful or frustrating. This can be unfortunate, especially when using stairs is part of your daily experience when running errands or going to work. Fortunately, there are knee exercises that can help you improve your mobility, increase flexibility of your knee muscles and make stairs less challenging.

Knee Problems on Stairs

Knee problems that affect your ability to go down stairs comfortably can strike at any age. One major cause of knee pain when going down stairs is chondromalacia, a weakening of the cartilage underneath the kneecap. Muscle weakness, injury or overuse can cause the condition, which is common among skiers, cyclists and soccer players. Tendinitis, an inflammation of the tendons in the knee, can also trigger knee pain when going down stairs.

Exercising to Help Knees

Exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee can help build up that part of the body and prevent pain when going down stairs. Low-impact exercises -- including swimming, riding a stationary bicycle and cross-country skiing -- can all build up the inner quadriceps, which support the knee, while also being safe for the joints. Exercises that help you lose weight can also make stair use easier because every pound of extra weight you have puts five pounds of pressure on your knees when walking down stairs, according to Medline Plus.

Specific Moves

Certain exercises can help build up the supporting muscles. You should first do some low-impact aerobic exercise to warm up your leg muscles before starting targeted moves. Try lying on your back and placing one leg straight out and the other bent with your foot flat on the floor. Lift the straight leg gently and slowly to a point about a foot off the floor, hold the position for about five seconds and lower the leg. Another helpful exercise is the hamstring curl, in which you stand behind a chair, holding the back of the chair for balance while slowly lifting one foot up toward your buttocks so that your heel, lower leg and knee are at a 90-degree angle to your body. You can hold this position for about five seconds before lowering the foot and changing sides.

Alternatives

If exercises to strengthen the area are not effective, you may need other treatment to resolve the problem and help you maneuver down stairs again. Electrical stimulation to bolster the surrounding muscles is one option for treatment. In some cases, surgery may be required. Surgical methods to treat knee problems include smoothing out the surface of the cartilage in the knee or implanting cartilage from another area of the body to the kneecap to replace lost tissue.

Considerations

Before embarking on an exercise program to improve your ability to walk down stairs, talk to your doctor about the problem and the potential causes. In some cases, your knee pain may signal something more serious, and the best option for you might be to rest your leg and knee for a while until it heals enough for you to begin exercising.

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