Do you find going up & down stairs daunting? Maybe you suffer from leg or back pain, weakness or balance issues which make you uncertain about stairs. Many different walking strategies can be used to negotiate stairs. This article will address those people able to put weight on both their legs. The advice which follows will apply to those able to put as much weight as they can tolerate on their feet. The two basic strategies to going up stairs are 1) a “Step-To” method in which you take a step and then lift your opposite foot to step on the same step, and 2) the normal fashion of alternating steps whereby each foot is one at a time on its own step
1. Going up stairs: If there is a handrail please be sure to use it! If you are using the “Step-To” method then remember the phrase, “Up with the Good”. When going up stairs, lead with your stronger leg then bring your weaker leg up to the same step as the stronger one. Keep doing so, resting as necessary until you reach the top. Engaging your core and abdominal muscles so that your trunk is upright will actually help to “unweight” the demands on the legs. Also, as you raise your weaker leg to step up, try to squeeze the buttocks or glutes of the standing leg. In cases where there is a single handrail and one needs to hold onto the rail with both hands, try angling your body and proceed with the “step to method”.
2. Going down stairs: If there is a handrail, make sure to use it. During the “Step-To” method, remember the phrase, “Down with the Bad”. In this case, you will want to go down stairs leading with the weaker leg. This allows your stronger leg to control the descent of the weaker leg. Again, using your core, engage your abdominal muscles and keep your posture upright to greatly assist your control. If you need to hold onto the stair handrail with both hands, angle your body towards the rail. You will either face downstairs or if need be, you will be angled facing upstairs, in essence walking down the stairs backwards. The last scenarios should really be evaluated by a physical therapist to determine what the safest stair climbing strategies are for your specific needs.
Follow these general tips about stairs. It is important to remember that the following:
1. There is no need to race up or down the stairs. Take your time and be safe!
2. If someone is able to assist you with stairs, make sure your assistant positions them self on the “downside” of the stairs. In case you do lose your balance, you’ll be far less likely to fall “down the stairs”.
3. For those who are able to perform regular “alternating step method” of going down stairs, it is okay to have the majority of your foot on a step but allow your toes to just hang off the lip of the step. This will allow people with limitations in ankle range of motion or suffers from knee discomfort or weakness to bend their knee more easily.
Again, any uncertainty with stairs should be evaluated by a physical therapist so that the best and safest means to go up and down stairs can be assessed and you receive the proper training. Usually if you have difficulty with stairs, you may also have a walking aide such as a cane, crutch or walker. There are several considerations to make with stairs if a walking aide is involved. This is not limited to height of the aide, which side they should hold the aide or handrail, etc. A physical therapist is trained and is the best to teach you safe strategies for doing so.
Please reach out if you have concerns about your ability to negotiate stairs and seek guidance. Your safety is important to us as is your being able to maintain the greatest amount of freedom and independence as possible.