Knee in pain when going down stairs: Here’s 4 ways physical therapists can help you

You’re not alone if you’ve ever winced your way down a flight of stairs. Knee pain when going down stairs can be a common complaint that can turn a simple task into your own real-life obstacle course. This pain can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from overuse to more serious conditions like arthritis or ligament injuries. Treatments can depend on the underlying issue causing your pain. It’s important to understand that you should consult a health care professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation. 

What can cause knee pain when descending stairs?

Before examining solutions to the pain, the underlying issue triggering your knee pain must be determined. Common culprits of knee pain when going down stairs can include:

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) — PFPS is a condition where your kneecap doesn’t move smoothly along the femoral groove. This can lead to discomfort, especially during activities like going down stairs. It’s one of the most common causes of anterior knee pain.

  • Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome — With iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, the IT band has become tight or inflamed and can cause pain on the outer side of your knee.

  • Osteoarthritis — Osteoarthritis is a joint condition caused by the degeneration of the cartilage in joints, affecting up to 46% of people at some point in their lives. Osteoarthritis can cause pain and stiffness in your knee joint, especially during weight-bearing activities like going down stairs.

  • Meniscus tears — The meniscus is a little disc of cartilage in your knee that can sometimes tear. A torn meniscus creates a sensation of pain, popping or even locking.

  • Muscle weakness or imbalance — If the quadriceps or hamstrings are weak and not properly supporting your knee, it can lead to misalignment and pain when you are going down stairs.

  • Patellar tendinitis — Patellar tendinitis is caused by the tendon connecting your kneecap to your shin becoming inflamed. Going down stairs can become a real struggle with this condition.

Treatment options to help tackle knee pain when going down stairs

Depending on the underlying condition, there can be a variety of treatments to help conquer your knee pain when you go down stairs. Treatments can include:

  • Pain medication — Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or NSAIDs can help manage your pain and reduce inflammation. However, you shouldn’t use these for long periods of time without discussing it with your health care provider.

  • Proper footwear — Make sure that you wear supportive and well-fitting shoes. Proper footwear can help contribute to proper foot alignment and reduce stress on your knees.

  • Physical therapyPhysical therapy can help address your specific conditions and provide you with a tailored exercise program to address muscle imbalances, improve joint stability and improve your overall knee function.

  • Assistive devices — Depending on the severity of your condition, a health care provider may recommend you use an assistive device like a knee brace or crutches to help give your knee additional support when you move.

  • Injections — Sometimes, your health care provider may recommend a corticosteroid injection. These injections can help reduce inflammation and provide you with temporary pain relief. 

The incredible arsenal of physical therapy

Physical therapy can be an incredibly beneficial treatment for your knee pain. Physical therapy techniques that can help alleviate your knee pain when you go down stairs include:

  • Dry needling Dry needling is a technique performed by certified physical therapists. Thin, sterile needles are inserted into trigger points or tight bands of muscles. It can help release muscle tension and improve blood flow. Dry needling can provide relief for conditions like patellofemoral pain syndrome or muscle strains.

  • Graston Technique® — The Graston Technique uses specialized stainless steel instruments to detect and break up scar tissue or fascial restrictions. This technique can help improve tissue mobility and be beneficial for helping to address issues like IT band syndrome or patellar tendinitis.

  • Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM)IASTM uses specially designed tools to detect and treat soft tissue problems, which can help promote healing and reduce pain. It can help alleviate knee pain related to conditions like muscle strains or IT band syndrome during stair descent.

  • Manual therapyManual therapy encompasses several hands-on techniques performed by skilled physical therapists, including joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization and stretching. One specific technique that may be used can be patellar mobilization. It can help improve joint mobility, reduce muscle tightness and address biomechanical issues that are contributing to knee pain when going down stairs.

It’s crucial to consult with a health care professional such as a physical therapist to determine the best treatment approach for your specific condition. They can provide you with a comprehensive assessment and guide you through treatments designed for helping to manage and reduce your knee pain when going down stairs.

Let Back in Motion help you on your quest to less knee pain when going down stairs

At Back in Motion, our team is dedicated to helping transform your experience of navigating stairs from a painful struggle to a stride filled with confidence and comfort. Our approach is rooted in our belief that every person deserves a customized treatment plan for their unique journey. Our physical therapists will craft an individualized treatment plan to address your needs and concerns. Let us be your partner in your journey toward less painful mobility.

Call us or request an appointment today and let’s partner together to ease your knee pain.

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