Features January 2019 Issue

Tips for Climbing Stairs

If knee pain hinders your ability to go up and down stairs, here are some tips to ease the pain.

When you have knee pain, movements you once accomplished with ease can become challenging, including simply going up and down stairs.

Cleveland Clinic physical therapist Dawn Lorring, PT, MEd, MPT, has some suggestions for taking the stairs safely and with less pain. "You have to think about which leg is doing the work of holding your body weight," she says. "The lead leg is doing the work going up and the trailing leg is doing the work going down." Therefore, lead with the stronger leg going up stairs and the weaker leg going down.

Lorring also advises going up and down one step at a time, rather than the usual step-over-step pattern. Step up with one leg and then bring the other leg to the same step. Do the same thing going down. "Some people are hesitant to do that because it takes longer," says Lorring. However, it will hurt less and you will be steadier and safer.

"I recommend holding on to the handrail, because when you're using a new pattern of going up and down stairs it can challenge your coordination and balance," she says. It's not automatic, so it's a good idea to have the extra help.

Using a Cane


Imagesbybarbara | Getty Images

If you use a cane, first make sure that you're holding it on the correct side. "You want the cane on the side opposite of the painful knee," says Lorring. Think about how you walk normally. As your left leg steps forward your right arm swings forward, and vice versa. At the moment you step down on your left leg you want the cane to take pressure of that leg, so the cane goes in the right hand.

The same concept applies when you go up and down stairs. The cane moves with the painful side. So, going up, put your stronger leg on the step, and then move the weaker leg and the cane to the same step and repeat. Going down, put the cane on the step, and then move the weaker leg down the step, followed by the stronger leg.

Comments (2)

From the comments above "usinga cane" ...
Isn't the cane in the ladies wrong hand?

Posted by: jw.kline@verizon.net | February 15, 2019 10:07 AM    Report this comment

This is article is very helpful, but what if like me, both knees have severe arthritis. I've been told by my orthopedist I will need double knee replacement in the future.
Any stair climbing advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Posted by: anamm | January 5, 2019 1:42 PM    Report this comment

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