Climbing stairs will not make your osteoarthritis worse. Your cartilage actually loves when you move, so climbing stairs won’t cause more damage. Stairs could, though, cause a little more irritation in your joints without the appropriate muscle support. So is stair climbing good for osteoarthritis?! Yes, if we have the right support. How do we build this support? You can build strength and stability in your knees with the right strengthening and mobility exercises which will help make getting up and down the stairs easier.
Do you dread going up and down the stairs in your home everyday? Are you worried that each time you climb the stairs that you are making your arthritis worse? I get the question all the time of “is stair climbing good for osteoarthritis or are the stairs hurting my knees?” Have you ever wondered that? If so, you are in the right place!
Stairs can be your enemy if you have knee, hip, or low back arthritis. We commonly find that many people tend to avoid climbing stairs not only because of joint pain, but also fear that climbing stairs is going to make arthritis worse. Well, is stair climbing good for osteoarthritis? Let’s take a look.
I wanted to first bring you hope, especially if you have stairs in your own home! It is possible to climb stairs without pain. I had a recent client who never thought she would see the day of climbing stairs without having to grimace with each step because of pain. Now, she is going up and down the stairs multiple times a day without even thinking twice about it. This is what freedom from arthritis pain feels like.
Stairs can be a great form of exercise and comes with many benefits. Research has also shown that in a group of people diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis…
“There was consistent and convincing evidence that greater stair-climbing ability was related to stronger lower limb muscles and less knee pain.”Whitchelo et al. 2013
In order to climb stairs without pain, we need more strength. This muscle strength will help to support your joints and keep them happy when they are challenged on the stairs. Without muscular support, your joints take more stress than they are used to. This can lead to irritation. In order to benefit from stair climbing, we have to prepare our legs for the challenge.
Benefits of stair climbing for arthritis
Stair climbing works multiple muscles at once which means more benefit in less time. It also offers benefits to your heart health and improves your stamina, especially when climbing stairs regularly. Stairs can help you maintain single leg strength and challenge your balance, in ways that regular forward walking cannot.
According to the Harvard Alumni Health Study, climbing just 10-19 floors per week was associated with a lower mortality risk in men age 60-71. This is an important finding because even adding in a minor amount of stair climbing to your week can give you future health benefits.
Stair climbing also helps to increase the activity that you get during the day. Oftentimes with osteoarthritis, we try to avoid exercise but it turns out, exercise is great for osteoarthritis. Check out more benefits of exercise here.
Unfortunately we can’t build muscles overnight. In the meantime, there are ways to make stairs a little easier on your joints. Here are 3 simple tricks you can try:
- Going down the stairs sideways. This can decrease the amount of pressure that is put on your knees and your low back.
- Going down the stairs backwards. Not necessarily the most ideal, especially in unfamiliar environments other than your own home because of your limited vision.
- Going down the stairs one at a time. This can also help, especially when you have steeper stairs. This limits the amount of force that goes through your joints.
These can give you temporary relief until you can gain more confidence and decrease your joint pain when going up and down stairs. Now let’s get to some exercises you can do in the meantime!
3 exercises to make climbing stairs easier with osteoarthritis
Now that we know stair climbing is not bad for the knees, lets make them easier for you! There are some simple tips we need to follow. This is a proven system that has worked time and time again for my patients and they can work for you too. Here are the first 3 exercises that we typically start with. The key is consistency and perseverance.
1. Tandem row the boat:
Balance is extremely important. When you are in a position that challenges your balance, your muscles have to work together to keep you upright. When they don’t work together (i.e when some muscles are stronger than others or aren’t activating as quickly) then we tend to lose our balance. Improving your balance can help those muscles work together again to give your joint more support and thus, LESS PAIN. Try to complete the tandem row the boat exercise using a dumbbell or a household object like a pillow. Try to work up to holding for at least 30 seconds each side.
2. Banded stepping:
Next we are working on lateral movements. The muscles that help us move side to side tend to get neglected because we don’t purposefully move sideways very often. These muscles are SUPER important for stair climbing though. Working them against resistance is a great way to build strength.
We love these resistance bands because they are inexpensive and so versatile. Highly recommend you get some if you don’t have a set. Try to complete 8-10 full revolutions each side of this banded stepping exercise (1 revolution is 1 forward step and 1 lateral step).
This is one of the most important strength movements for climbing stairs without pain. Mastering the lunge is crucial to your success with getting up and down the stairs. Hanging onto something to start can help. If we don’t do this movement correctly, it can lead to increased knee pain.
Starting with support helps you to maintain the correct form and reduce pain levels. Imagine someone is pushing you straight down, keeping your chest up. Only go down as far as is comfortable to start. Try to complete 10-20 reps alternating legs. To make this more difficult, try to complete 10-20 on each leg consecutively.
If this movement is painful, you can also use this bodyweight support system, similar to the TRX system. We use it with almost all of our clients. It helps give you the right amount of support while teaching your body how to move again. Going through the right progression of exercises helps to significantly reduces pain levels while still getting the benefits of the exercise! We highly recommend checking the bands out HERE (less than half the price of name brands)! Use the same rep scheme as above.
Conclusion: Is stair climbing good for osteoarthritis?
The answer is YES, if we follow the right steps to keep our joints strong and healthy. We now know stairs are not bad for arthritis. Let’s summarize these tips from above so you can get on the right path to life changing pain relief. In order to reap these results, we have to take action. Without action, you will continue to irritate your knees with stairs. Relief is possible we just have to work for it.
- Find a temporary way to go up and down the stairs (sideways or backwards) to make them tolerable and decrease irritation.
- Complete these 3 rounds of these exercises at least 4-5 times per week. It would be best if you could follow this sequence: Exercise 1, exercise 2, exercise 3 then repeat 2 more times through. If you notice pain during the exercises don’t go down as far or reduce the number of reps. You may feel some discomfort when starting new exercises but they should not cause significant pain.
- Download the 3 Stair Climbing Secrets Every Go Getter Needs to Know in order to climb stairs with ease and without pain, even with knee arthritis! So what is this?
Unlock the 3 Stair Climbing Secrets
These secrets are exactly what you need to prepare your joints for stair climbing with ease. You are not alone in experiencing pain or difficulty with going up or down stairs, it is extremely common with knee arthritis.
When it comes to these 3 stair climbing secrets….
This is NOT something that I just made up one day and hoped that it would work. I spent years researching and testing this step by step process just for you.This is what happened…Clients with knee arthritis would come to me sick of having pain when going down stairs. They were so frustrated and thought there was no solution. Almost every single person avoided stairs at all costs, even if they had them in their house!I would get so many questions about stairs including the most famous “Is stair climbing bad for arthritic knees?”
I knew there had to be a way to help. This is why I created the “Stair Climbing Secrets” training. This is perfect for go getters with arthritis who are looking to finally climb stairs with ease again. I found that so many people aren’t able to even get around their house without flaring up arthritis pain so I am here to help you put a stop to that today!
Without these 3 stair climbing secrets, pain will likely continue to get worse and that death grip on the stair railing will continue to get stronger. You may even have to rely on others to go up and down the stairs for you! I don’t want you to miss out on this special offer for you to finally tackle any stairs and hills that come your way.
Dr. Alyssa Kuhn is a physical therapist and arthritis specialist with Keep the Adventure Alive. She is the author of Move Well Age Well: How to Rock the Later Years with Fitness and Mindset. Her main mission has always been to prove to people that it is possible to take control of osteoarthritis pain and keep adventures alive. She has shown so many clients that surgery is not the only option. There are so many people out there searching for answers on their osteoarthritis. Keep the Adventure Alive is your one stop shop for all of your osteoarthritis needs.
There are affiliate links from Amazon embedded in this post that offer a small commission without any cost to you.
Disclaimer: This post is for general informational purposes only. It should not be used to self-diagnose and it is not a substitute for a medical exam, cure, treatment, diagnosis, and prescription or recommendation. It does not create a doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Kuhn and you. You should not make any change in your health regimen or diet before first consulting a physician and obtaining a medical exam, diagnosis, and recommendation. Move Well Age Well, LLC and Dr. Alyssa Kuhn, PT, DPT are not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any conclusions drawn, services or product you obtain through this video or site.