Surgical intervention of the knee joint routinely endeavors to recreate a physiologically normal joint loading environment. The loading conditions resulting from osteotomies, fracture treatment, ligament replacements, and arthroplasties of the knee are considered to have an impact on the long term clinical outcome; however, knowledge regarding in vivo loading conditions is limited. Using a previously validated musculoskeletal lower limb model, we predicted the tibio-femoral joint contact forces that occur in the human knee during the common daily activities of walking and stair climbing. The average resultant peak force during walking was 3.1 times body weight (BW) across four total hip arthroplasty patients. Inter-individual variations proved larger than the variation of forces for each patient repeating the same task. Forces through the knee were considerably larger during stair climbing than during walking: the average resultant peak force during stair climbing was 5.4 BW although peaks of up to 6.2 BW were calculated for one particular patient. Average anteroposterior peak shear components of 0.6 BW were determined during walking and 1.3 BW during stair climbing. These results confirm both the joint contact forces reported in the literature and the importance of muscular activity in creating high forces across the joint. The magnitudes of these forces, specifically in shear, have implications for all forms of surgical intervention in the knee. The data demonstrate that high contact and shear forces are generated during weight bearing combined with knee flexion angles greater than approximately 15°. Clinically, the conditions that produce these larger contact forces should be avoided during post-operative rehabilitation. © 2003 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.