Why do my knees hurt when I go up stairs?

Many things can cause knee pain when going upstairs.The two most common are Chondromalacia patella (overuse injury) and arthritis.

These conditions can turn a seemingly benign task, such as climbing stairs, into a challenging one. Fortunately, increasing your understanding of each problem can help you treat the condition and reduce pain.

This article explains the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of chondromalacia patella and knee arthritis.

Chondromalacia patella

Chondromalacia patella, also known as “runner’s knee,” occurs when the smooth, smooth cartilage on the back of the kneecap (patella) begins to soften and break down. When it works properly, the patella slides up and down in a groove at the bottom of your thigh bone (called a femoral groove) as your knee bends and straightens.

But people with chondromalacia patella experience more friction and friction. This extra friction occurs due to the breakdown of this cartilage, which can irritate your joints.


One of the hallmark symptoms of chondromalacia patellae is a dull, aching pain in the area behind the kneecap. This condition can also cause pain under, medial, or lateral to the patella.

The main complaint of people with this disorder is soreness while performing certain activities, such as:

  • go up the stairs
  • squat
  • go downhill
  • Run
  • stand up after sitting for a long time

Causes and Risk Factors

Several different risk factors can make you more likely to develop chondromalacia patella. These include:

  • overweight
  • people with less muscle mass
  • people with previous knee injuries

Chondromalacia patella is also more common in people who participate in endurance sports such as running or cycling. In this case, the muscle imbalance can cause the kneecap to track incorrectly in the femoral groove, resulting in repeated friction and irritation.


Chondromalacia patella is a condition in which the patella begins to wear down and break down. As the patella wears down, it creates friction, causing joint pain. As a result, people with chondromalacia patella may not be able to perform activities that require the use of the knee, such as climbing stairs.


As the cartilage breaks down, the space between the bones of the knee (tibia, fibula, and patella) shrinks. When this happens, there may be damage to one or several of them, called arthritis.

While there are many different kinds of this condition, the most common is osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative (wear and tear) form of arthritis.


Chondromalacia patellae and arthritis can both make climbing stairs, walking, and squatting very painful. However, several other symptoms can help you distinguish between the two conditions.

Signs of knee OA include:

  • knee pain
  • rigidity
  • swelling
  • Can not move
  • Knee pops or locks

Osteoarthritis usually occurs in middle-aged and elderly people. Also, stiffness and swelling in the knee (especially in the morning and after sitting for long periods of time) can make it difficult to bend or straighten the knee. This stiffness can cause the first few steps of the day to be painful and challenging.

Causes and Risk Factors

A number of different factors can put you at greater risk of developing arthritis. These include:

  • excess weight
  • previous knee injury
  • person engaging in exercise that puts repetitive pressure on the knee joint
  • as a woman
  • genetics


Knee arthritis can cause pain when walking up stairs. This is because the degenerative effects of arthritis can cause friction and damage to the kneecap. However, you can usually distinguish arthritis from chondromalacia patella because arthritis often causes swelling, stiffness, and popping in addition to pain from activity.


When you see a doctor about knee pain that occurs when you climb stairs, the first thing they do is a physical exam. Additionally, they will review your medical history and all symptoms.


When diagnosing osteoarthritis, doctors usually use x-rays to look at the spaces between the bones of the knee joint. X-rays also allow them to see any damage that may have occurred to the bones themselves.

If doctors suspect another form of the condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis (an autoimmune form), they may also draw blood to confirm the diagnosis.

Chondromalacia patella

In the case of chondromalacia patella, you cannot see damage to the cartilage on an X-ray. Therefore, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is often required to properly diagnose this condition.


Both chondromalacia patella and arthritis can initially be managed well with conservative measures, especially when symptoms are mild to moderate. The following suggestions may help ease the pain you feel when you walk up the stairs.

Chondromalacia patella

Chondromalacia patella is common in people who participate in repetitive activities such as running. Therefore, rest can play an important role in reducing pain associated with this condition. Additionally, the following therapies may be helpful:

  • freeze your knees
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription pain relievers
  • physical therapy
  • lose weight
  • Modify your footwear

Physical therapy can help increase the strength and flexibility of the leg muscles. Additionally, this work can help reduce the force exerted on the knee itself and improve the tracking of the kneecap. Your therapist may also work with you to modify your running or cycling form to relieve your knee pain.


As with chondromalacia, you can use the RICE principles (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to improve arthritis pain. Additionally, the following may benefit knee arthritis:

  • over-the-counter pain relievers
  • stay active
  • physical therapy
  • Orthotics on shoes
  • maintain a healthy weight

Bed rest or prolonged sitting is rarely an effective solution. Instead, try riding a stationary bike or short walks with the least resistance. These activities can help loosen stiff knees and improve your overall soreness.

Physical therapy strengthens your supporting hip and knee muscles and improves overall flexibility.

Unfortunately, in some cases conservative treatment is not effective in relieving your symptoms. In this case, surgery may be required. Knee arthritis surgery may involve partial or total knee replacement. Outpatient treatment is then required.


Treatment for knee pain may vary slightly, depending on the cause. For chondromalacia patella and arthritis, rest, ice, OTC pain relievers, and orthoses may help. With arthritis, staying active is critical to keeping your joints moving. If these home remedies don’t help, your doctor may recommend surgery.


Arthritis and chondromalacia patella often cause knee pain. Healthcare providers diagnose these diseases through imaging techniques such as X-rays and MRIs. Treatment may vary slightly depending on the cause, but usually rest, ice, and physical therapy can help in both cases. If you have arthritis, continuous exercise is essential to keep your joints mobile.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you manage stairs with knee arthritis?

    Strengthening your leg muscles can improve your mobility and make it easier to climb stairs when you have arthritis. Exercise, proper nutrition, and reducing inflammation are the best ways to strengthen these muscles.

    understand more:

    Straight Legs Improve Muscle Strength

  • How long does it take to recover from chondromalacia patellae?

    Depending on the severity of the injury and your overall health, you may make a full recovery within weeks or months. However, about half of people with chondromalacia patella continue to experience pain and symptoms for two to eight years.

    understand more:

    How to Treat a Runner’s Knee

  • Why does the outside of my knee hurt when I go up stairs?

    Repetitive pressure on the knee can cause patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as chondromalacia or runner’s knee. It refers to the breakdown of the cartilage under the kneecap.

    understand more:

    What is a patellofemoral joint?