The Lazy Knee and Painful Stairs

Do you have knee pain while doing stairs? 

You're not alone.

This is a common complaint that I hear from people who come in complaining of knee pain. After asking a few questions and watching my patient perform a step up or a step down from a stair, it's often and easy fix. 

Going up and down stairs is something so simple that most of us do daily. Our brains learn quickly how to manage stairs and very soon in our lives, this motion becomes automatic, without any conscious thought. 

As we get tired or distracted, sometimes our bodies become lazy. The body doesn't discriminate and the knee can also fall victim to being lazy. In the case of the knee, this means we're not using as many muscles to perform the same task, i.e. doing stairs. Day to day, your knee may be lazy, however you may not notice anything different. 

As days turn to weeks, your body is no longer using the muscles that it's supposed to to navigate stairs. This obviously leads to the muscles becoming weaker. 

In regards to the knee, alignment is so important. The knee only allows for slight deviations from normal before pain occurs. When we have changes in muscle strength, our alignment can change too, leading to pain. 

The Lazy Knee  - notice on the left, the knee falls in slightly when the patient is about to step up. 

The Lazy Knee - notice on the left, the knee falls in slightly when the patient is about to step up. 

Notice here, the knee stays in line over the foot without falling in. This is proper alignment, 

Notice here, the knee stays in line over the foot without falling in. This is proper alignment, 

Often times, it's changes in your glute muscles, the muscles around the back of your hip and bum, that have either become weak or have decided to take a break. 

If this issue has been going on for some time, it may be necessary to strengthen the muscles. The muscles may not have been working properly for long enough that actual changes in the muscles such as decreased strength have occurred. Once you regain the strength in those muscles, it will be much easier to maintain proper alinement at the knee, and avoid pain.  

Often times, the muscles that aren't working well just need a boost or a wake up call in order to remember to work properly. If this is the case, then simply engaging your glute muscles while taking the step should improve the alignment of your knee and decrease your pain. You can engage those muscles by focusing on pushing through your heel and extending your hip with the step and not trying to do all the work with your quads (the muscles on the front of your thigh!).  

With this being a common problem that I see, I'm going to be doing a blog series on glute activation exercises and a series of videos to go along with it. 

This way, you'll have all the exercises you need to engage your glutes.  

Stay tuned for more information on the difference between strengthening and activating a muscle and specific exercises that help to engage your glutes.