Dr.Ralph Venuto Dr.Ralph Venuto
Dr.Ralph Venuto

Causes of Knee Pain When Climbing or Descending Stairs

If you experience pain while climbing or descending stairs, it's time to consider an effective knee therapy. Many conditions could result in knee pain. However, a problem with the knee cap (patella) is the primary reason for pain in the knee. Anything that affects the thick layer of cartilage lining the back of the patella or interferes with the smooth movement of the knee cap will intensify the force the patella endures from everyday activities.

Common Causes of Knee Pain

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between tissues of the body. There are three major bursae of the knee joint. When a bursa becomes inflamed, the condition is known as bursitis. If you suffer from knee bursitis, you may experience varying degrees of stiffness, redness, warmth, swelling, and tenderness in the knee joint area. Persistent knee pain when climbing or descending stairs is a common symptom of bursitis. The pain can worsen while kneeling, and you may also experience stiffness and pain when walking. The range of motion of the knee is usually not affected.

Some common causes of knee bursitis include knee trauma, kneeling for prolonged periods of time, and bacterial infection of the bursae (the fluid sacs that surround the knee joint cavity). Your orthopedic surgeon will first determine whether there is infection in the bursae. Infectious bursitis is usually treated with surgery, antibiotics and removal or aspiration of knee fluid.

Patellar Tendonitis
With overuse, the patellar tendon, which connects the femur with the tibia, may become inflamed, causing pain over the front surface of the knee. You may also experience a crackling sensation in the large anterior cruciate ligament. This condition is commonly known as patellar tendonitis, which can cause debilitating knee pain when you descend or climb stairs as a result of stress on the patellar tendon.

Other common patellar tendonitis symptoms include knee stiffness, pain over the patellar tendon-kneecap joint, and stiffness when squatting. The most effective knee therapy involves strengthening exercises, ice application, and rest, with a focus on reducing inflammation in the tendon and increasing flexibility and strength of the hamstrings. In some cases, platelet rich plasma (PRP) technology can help to repair the tendon.

Chondromalacia Patella
Also known as runner’s knee, chondromalacia patella (the softening and breakdown of cartilage on the underside of the kneecap) causes kneecap pain that worsens when climbing stairs. The condition is the result of weakening and degeneration of the deepest layers of the cartilage beneath the kneecap. The cartilage surface may become irritated if the kneecap rubs against one side of the knee joint, resulting in knee pain. Young adults and athletes are more prone to chondromalacia patella, though older individuals may also experience the condition due to osteoarthritis of the kneecap. They may experience a grinding sensation and tenderness when the knee is stretched or straightened.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition and the most common form of knee arthritis. It is a degenerative disease causing the joint cartilage in the knee to gradually wear away and most often affects middle-aged and older adults. The most common causes of osteoarthritis are genetic factors and long term overuse of joints. Inactivity can worsen the condition and excessive weight can also be an aggravating factor, especially for the knees and lower back.

Osteoarthritis causes pain, inflammation, and stiffness, affecting joints mostly in weight bearing areas. If weight is a factor, weight loss can greatly reduce pain. Some studies show that dietary supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, are effective for many people, without side effects. If a patient’s condition is more extreme, surgery may be necessary. But osteoarthritis is often manageable without surgery. Viscosupplementation, hyaluronic acid injections, corticosteroid injections, NSAIDs, and physical therapy also can be worthy treatments for more progressed forms of osteoarthritis.

If you experience knee pain while ascending or descending stairs, it is time to approach an Orange County orthopedic knee surgery specialist to help reduce or eliminate the pain and get you back to daily activities without discomfort.

Dr. Ralph Venuto is frequently seen on local and national television news programs and featured in newspaper and magazine articles educating the media and their viewers about innovative techniques in orthopedic and sports medicine. He is often asked to provide information on the various non-surgical alternatives he frequently uses to help many patients reduce the on-going pain resulting from a variety of orthopedic conditions.


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360 San Miguel Drive Suite 701
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Phone : 949-759-3600

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is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon in Newport Beach serving all of Orange County, California. He specializes in the care of conditions and injuries of the knee and shoulder joints, and also is a well-known sports medicine physician. Through the use of non-surgical techniques such as platelet-rich plasma therapy and stem cell therapy, he is helping patients recover quickly and return to the activities they love most.