5 Things to Avoid When it Comes to Stairs with Knee Arthritis: The TRUTH About How To Stop Dreading Stairs And Hills

Stairs can seem frustrating, scary, and dreadful if you are experiencing knee arthritis. What if I told you it was possible to stop dreading stairs with knee arthritis if you avoided these five things?! Well, it’s true! If you avoid cluttering stairs, limping, carrying objects, losing balance, and surrendering- your life will change. I have seen it happen over and over again with so many people who thought they would never be able to climb up or down stairs “normally” again! Learn more below.

We asked real people living with knee arthritis how they felt about stairs…can you relate?

“Stairs is just awkward for me. It’s not the pain that’s the worst, although I have a little pain, it’s just really awkward.”

I’m always frightened of falling down the stairs.”

“Going up and down stairs are a problem for me. I have 35 stairs from my front door to my car! Kills me every day!”

I do better going down stairs instead of upstairs. The pain is horrible. I have 6 stairs to get in my house and 6 steps up from kitchen to den. It’s really difficult.”

“I’m not too good at stairs with knee arthritis no matter which direction I’m going! This is why I have a single level home”

“It’s hard for me to watch my young grandkids because they always want to go up and down the stairs and I can’t keep up!”

Have you felt this way before about stairs with knee arthritis?!

Turns out that many people think stairs are actually HARMFUL to your joints. The answer is actually quite the opposite! You can read a previous post where I explain if stairs are good for osteoarthritis!

Let’s learn a little more…

The problem with stairs and knee arthritis

One of my recent clients was actually fearful of stairs because she thought going up and down the stairs actually made her knee arthritis worse. And let me tell you, she’s not the only one.

In the comments above, others feel the exact same way. People have changed where they live because of the pain. 

So, why are stairs such a problem?!

For a majority of people, going down the stairs can be more difficult than going up. This is because you are trying to control your leg against gravity trying to pull it down. Without the right amount of strength, this becomes very difficult and puts abnormal stress through your knee joints.

If you have difficulty going up the stairs and feel like you are death gripping the railing, strength deficits are likely also at play here too.

When climbing the stairs with knee arthritis, you have to be able to support your entire body weight. If you can’t, this is where the railing can become super helpful.

In both of these scenarios, this abnormal loading over and over again can lead to more pain.

Struggling up and down the stairs can be extremely limiting to daily life along with any adventures you may go on. Hills act the same way. 

Avoiding certain movements and behaviours can help you tackle any stairs and/or hills that come your way. 

Understand what is possible

Before we go any further, I want you to know that climbing stairs with knee arthritis won’t damage your joint IF your joints are ready for it!

It is possible to tackle stairs with ease again. It’s possible to go up and down the stairs one after the other instead of one at a time. It’s possible to climb inclines again. 

Take it from these arthritis adventurers below:

stairs with knee arthritis
knee arthritis pain relief
stairs with knee arthritis
stair climbing knee pain

What should you avoid when climbing stairs?

1. If you have pain with stairs, avoid trying to carry anything in your hands.

Okay, but who is going to carry the laundry or the holiday decorations up and down the stairs?! 

This is a common mistake that can be very dangerous especially if you are not confident in your ability to go up and down the stairs. 

If your joint is experiencing abnormal loading already due to strength deficits and lack of muscle control, adding on extra weight can make things much more painful. Having one hand occupied can also be dangerous to your balance if you are not confident in your knee(s). 

If you need to carry I recommend using a bag that you can put over your shoulder to carry up or down the stairs. Those reusable grocery bags work great for this. You could also use a drawstring bag for small items too! 

When carrying something larger, you can set it on the stairs and move it up as you go. Coming down may be a little trickier with larger objects. One safe way to do this could be going down the stairs backwards, moving the object down to the stair 1-2  above you (of course safety permitting⚠️).

Both ways can be helpful if you need to take something up or down the stairs with you without sacrificing your safety! Stairs do require extra concentration when carrying and maneuvering objects, so it is crucial you only try what you are comfortable with!  

2. Avoid cluttering stairs with loose objects

stairs with knee arthritis (1)

This one is pretty straightforward. When tackling stairs with pain, any distraction or obstacle becomes even more dangerous. Keeping stairs clear can make your journey up and down so much easier! 

3. Avoid limping up or down the stairs

I know this can sound very challenging because if you find yourself limping you usually don’t have the ability to stop. This can lead to a higher fall risk down the stairs, especially if you don’t have confidence in your leg(s).

There are strategies you can use to help prevent limping when going up or down the stairs. Let’s take a look:

  • Using a stair rail can likely provide the support you need, especially when going up the stairs. Ideally, there would be rails on both sides  
  • Using a cane can be extremely helpful, even if it is just temporary or if you use it during a flare up
  • Try going up or down the stairs sideways or backwards (safety permitting⚠️)


**It is important to note that when you are limping, you are putting abnormal loads through parts of your joints that may not appreciate it.

The goal is to keep your walking and stair climbing as normal as possible (I know it is easier said than done!). The less compensations you can learn, the happier your joints will be. 

4. Avoid losing your balance

This answer is two-fold because the obvious is DUH! you don’t want to lose your balance and fall down the stairs. Balance can be improved upon but, just like your muscles, it needs to be challenged appropriately to improve.

When you are doing stairs with knee arthritis and really, arthritis in any joint, balance is critical. Not only so you don’t fall but balance is one way your body uses to support yourself.

When going up and down the stairs, you are asking each leg to carry your entire body weight for a brief period of time. To keep your balance and allow for this to happen without pain, you need your muscles to all be on the same page. This is what balance is.

If they aren’t on the same page, you will end up with more pain and more difficulty with going up and down the stairs. The good news? There is an easy way to fix this. 

5. Avoid throwing in the white flag with stairs

Stairs and hills can be frustrating and so painful to your joints if you don’t have the right steps towards success.

Your knees may be sensitive to stairs right now but it doesn’t mean they will be forever. 

Once you build adequate strength and balance to support your knees both going up and down the stairs, you’ll notice they can get easier. In order to do so, you need the right movements to help you succeed. 

I created a FREE 4 day arthritis exercise challenge that shows you the best movements to help improve your mobility, strength, and balance so you can get started on your journey to pain relief. 

The best way to get better at stair climbing with knee arthritis is to take action. Click the button below to get started right now.


There are things you can avoid when climbing up and down stairs that can make your experience so much easier, safer and with much less pain! This is true even for those with knee arthritis.

Follow the above recommendations can make stairs with knee arthritis much more doable.

Understanding that stairs are not bad for arthritic knees and taking the valid steps to improving ability can make a world of difference. As a physical therapist I have seen it happen time and time again! 

I cannot wait to see you inside the free 4 day challenge ✅

adventurers for life

If you are looking to regain your active life but are unsure where to start, join the revolutionary membership, Adventurers for Life. This is a step-by-step path that not only will help you find pain relief but will help you unlock adventure. You’ll get workouts, tests to pass to make sure you are on the right track, community events and MORE. 

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.

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