If you’re trying to stay fit and walk more, you have probably heard multiple messages about parking far away to force yourself to walk and foregoing the elevator in favor of the stairs. Whether it’s steps to the beach, the steps to the basement laundry, Rome’s Spanish Steps, or steps onto the bleachers at your favorite baseball field, sometimes you just can’t avoid the steps. But what if it hurts to climb or descend stairs?
Typically, people who suffer discomfort from climbing stairs have weakened leg muscles, especially the quadriceps muscles in their thighs. This, combined with poor cardiovascular conditioning often causes people to be short of breath or plain tired when they climb the stairs.
The good news: if climbing stairs wears you out, keep doing it. For most people, the repetitive exercise of stair climbing will actually build up your quadriceps, increase your endurance and improve your cardiovascular conditioning. We don’t recommend that you go from a totally sedentary lifestyle to running up the stairs of your nearest skyscraper, but certainly climbing several flights of stairs a day can only be beneficial, if your medical condition allows such exercise.
Going down stairs uses your muscles in a different way. In addition, even a minimal amount of arthritis in the knee will often evidence itself as you descend the stairs. There are a few remedies that you can try to make your climbing down stairs less painful.
· Build up your quadriceps. If your quadriceps are weak, then the downward movement of your legs puts more pressure on your knees. You can build up your quadriceps through climbing stairs as well as other exercises, including leg lifts lying on your back.
· Move around a bit more. If you are quite sedentary, you can become stiff in lots of joints, and your knees are quite susceptible to this.
· Turn it around. Now we don’t mean go up the down staircase. But what we do mean is to face backwards and descend the stairs that way. You have to be holding onto the rail and you have to scan your surroundings beforehand to be sure this is a safe move (and we don’t recommend it in crowded stairways), but walking down the stairs backwards puts far less stress on your knees.
Please consult your health care team regarding the stairs in your life. You may be able to utilize physical therapy or occupational therapy to conquer the stairs.