Knee Pain When Climbing Stairs

Many conditions can cause knee pain when stair climbing. Pain in the front of the knee/knee cap is a common complaint from knee pain suffers when they climb or descend a set of stairs. Stair climbing places additional stress on injured knee tissues such as tendons and cartilage.

View the top 3 causes of Knee Pain Going Up Stairs

Patellar Tendinitis

Patellar tendinitis can cause knee pain when climbing stairs. Patellar tendinitis is a painful condition and can be debilitating. The patellar tendon connects the patella ( knee cap ) with the larger bone of the shin ( tibia ).

A significant amount of stress is placed on the patellar tendon during activities that require repetitive sprinting and jumping movements. Typically, patellar tendinitis is associated with overuse. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain where the patellar tendon joins the kneecap
  • Knee stiffness
  • Knee pain/stiffness when squatting or climbing/descending stairs
  • Cracking sounds in the knee when the knee is bent ( crepitus )


Knee bursitis can cause knee pain when climbing stairs. Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa ( i.e. fluid-filled sac near the knee joint ). A bursa lies between muscles or tendons and bone and aids in reducing friction during movement. Each knee has 11 bursae. Although any of these bursae may become irritated/inflamed, the bursa that lies over the knee cap and the bursa on the inner side of the knee, but below the knee joint, are the most frequently affected.

The following are known causes of knee bursitis:

  • Kneeling for prolonged periods
  • Knee trauma
  • Bacterial infection of the bursae

Common signs and symptoms associated with knee bursitis include an area of the knee that’s warm to the touch or swollen, pain and tenderness when pressure is applied to the affected area and anterior knee pain when stair climbing.

Chondromalacia Patellae

Chondromalacia patellae can cause anterior knee pain when ascending stairs. Chondromalacia patellae is the weakening and degeneration of cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. Often times, the kneecap is not tracking properly when the knee is bent, so the knee cap wears done much like a car engine would if the gears were unaligned. In older individuals, chondromalacia patellae may be caused by osteoarthritis (OA) of the kneecap.

Common signs and symptoms associated with chondromalacia patellae include:

  • Knee pain made worse with stair climbing
  • Knee tenderness and a grinding sensation when the knee is extended or straightened

Behind the Knee Pain

Behind the Knee Pain? It might be Chondromalacia.

Chondromalacia patellae is the condition that describes the softening and fraying of the underside of the kneecap. The undersurface of the kneecap ( patella ), is covered by a smooth layer of cartilage. This cartilage normally glides easily across the knee when the joint moves. In fact, the undersurface of a healthy kneecap is generally several times more slippery than ice! In some people, the kneecap can rub against one side of the knee joint, which overtime causes wear and tear and leads to irritation. Left untreated, the cartilage will fray, which increases the friction between the undersurface of the kneecap and the knee.

Many people with chrondromalacia can describe the feeling when they bend the knee as a crunching/crackling sensation ( think snap, crackle, pop ). In some cases, you can actually hear a crackling sound when the person bends his or her knee. Often, there is little pain associated with this. The pain is actually caused by the inflammation and irritation caused by these small pieces of cartilage breaking off settling within the knee. This is often the reason why some patients don’t tend to have too much pain while undertaking a particular activity, but really feel the pain a day or two later.

If you have chrondomalacia, the recommended treatment is to rest the knee until the pain goes away. Pain is your enemy. Remember, if you are experiencing pain, that means that tiny pieces of you kneecap have broken off and you’ve done some damage. The next step is to figure out why your knee has been damaged. As said above, the cause is generally the kneecap not tracking properly. The reason for this varies, but common reasons include imbalanced leg muscles ( e.g. the outside muscle of your thigh pulls harder than it should, yanking the kneecap off track ). This is where a good physical therapist can really come in handy!