Yes, that wondrous but also annoying joint - the knee. It's so useful for moving your legs around but at the same time it's so darn sensitive, especially when you're on the stairs. So what's the problem? Is it because you're getting older and your cartilage has worn out? Is knee pain something you just have to deal with for the rest of your life?
Thankfully, for many people, the answer to knee pain is pretty simple. Stretch! Many of us abuse our bodies, not by overuse, but actually by sitting around all day without rest. Isn't it crazy that you actually should take breaks from sitting? Who knew?! When you sit all day in a chair, your hip flexors and hamstrings tighten up and actually start to shorten. As your hamstrings get shorter, undue pressure is placed on hamstring tendons that attach to the inside of your knee. These 3 tendons are attachments from your sartorius, semitendinosus, and gracilis muscles. Constant pressure causes inflammation of these tendons and results in something called pes anserinus. You'll know you have pes anserinus if you palpate (press) the inner knee and inner thigh area and it's super sensitive, maybe so sensitive that even a light touch will make you jump!
Minor Pes Anserinus can be resolved easily by rolling out or stretching the hamstring and other muscles surrounding the knee, like the quads and calves. One of my student's knee pain went away after just one hour of lengthening and intelligently mobilizing the legs! (I know, I was surprised too)
One of my favorite hamstring stretches is supta padangusthasana (reclined hand to big toe pose). If you just want a picture of how this looks, as well as an awesome explanation, see this article by Yoga Journal. Otherwise, just lie down, grab a towel or strap or belt, wrap it around your foot and gently bring your leg toward your face. the opposite leg can be straight on the ground. This pose isn't about how close you get your leg to your face (even though our ego might feel better), it's about getting an accurate hamstring stretch. I also like to keep my raised foot flexed to stretch the calf. I'm all about more efficient stretching! If you want to try adding active stretching, then attempt to pull the strap toward you as you resist the motion with your raised leg. This engages your hamstring muscle which, strangely enough, also tells the brain that it's safe to open up a little more.
Another stretch I love is Janu Sirsasana, head to knee forward bend.
There are some other muscles in the lower body that can also contribute to knee pain, but that's an article for the future. Stay tuned!