Hiking is a fantastic way to stay fit and healthy whilst spending plenty of time outdoors in the fresh air. Regular hikes can improve your fitness, strengthen your muscles and are beneficial to your mental health. But what do you do when your healthy hobby starts causing you knee pain?
In this article we will walk you through some of the most common causes of knee pain, how to treat them, and how to prevent them from happening again.
What Causes Knee Pain from Hiking?
Knee pain during or after hiking can be caused by many things, often depending on your experience level and how challenging the trail is. But there are some issues that affect a lot of hikers.
Excessive strenuous activity or overuse can put strain on the knee joint and surrounding muscles, causing pain and sometimes long-term injury.
If you are new to hiking, it’s better to gradually increase your mileage and allow your fitness to improve before attempting the longer and more challenging routes. Taking rest days in between hikes will also help to avoid pain from overuse.
People often assume the ascent is the hardest part of the hike. It’s true that an uphill climb requires a lot of strength and stamina, but a steep descent actually puts more compressive force on the knee joint.
Side stepping on a decline can help to reduce the pressure on your knees and prevent injury.
When you walk on uneven ground, your muscles take on extra strain as they try to stabilise your body. This can cause pain around the knee joint.
Bumpy trails can also put you at risk of losing your balance and twisting your knee. Try using hiking poles for extra support to help avoid this.
If your leg muscles are weak or under-developed, your body may try to overcompensate by carrying more of your body weight through your knees. Consider some strength and conditioning exercises in between hikes to keep your muscles in good shape.
The more strenuous the trail, the more important it is to wear the right footwear. Good quality hiking boots provide vital support to your knee joint and help prevent injury. If you aren’t ready to invest in a pair of boots then consider buying insoles for extra cushioning.
What to do about Knee Pain from Hiking?
How you treat your knee pain depends on what kind of injury you have.
A sharp shooting pain can be indicative of tendinitis. This is when repetitive stress on the knee causes small tears in the tendon. Apply ice to the injury as soon as possible, then alternate between ice and heat.
Anti-inflammatories can help to speed the recovery and reduce pain. It is important to rest your knee for at least a few days or until the symptoms have eased, and to elevate your leg if possible.
You can do this by placing pillows on a chair until you reach the desired height so that your knee and ankle are above your hips when your leg is outstretched.
A persistent ache in the knee can be a sign of worn down cartilage. Take a few days rest and make sure you are wearing good quality hiking boots that offer plenty of support for your joints.
If you have pain and swelling in the inner side of the knee below the joint, you could have Bursitis. This occurs when overuse of the knee causes the fluid sacs that protect the joint to become inflamed.
Your skin may be tender and warm to the touch. Avoid bearing weight on your knee until the symptoms have improved, and use ice and anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling and ease the pain.
Many hiker’s suffer with generic knee pain often referred to as ‘hiker’s knee’. Most often, this is caused by the knee taking too much pressure during steep descents, or walking long distances on uneven ground.
Over the counter medication and plenty of rest will usually fix this issue, and ice can be applied if necessary.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and notice no improvements after several days, you may need to seek medical advice.
Whilst knee pain is a common issue that affects many hikers, it can often be prevented.
Investing in good quality hiking boots is very important for avoiding pain and injury. The right shoes will provide plenty of support to your joints and muscles.
They can improve your stability on uneven ground, making it less likely that you will sustain an injury by twisting your knee. They can also assist with grip on muddy or slippery surfaces to reduce your risk of falling.
Hiking poles are often associated with older hikers, but they can be used by people of all ages for extra stability. Poles will help you keep your footing on bumpy or rocky paths, and can take some of the weight off your knees when walking downhill.
A knee brace is another form of additional support used by hikers. The brace will help to prevent injury by keeping the joint stable.
Try to travel light where possible, as carrying less weight will reduce the pressure on your knee joints. If you are travelling in a group, spread the weight between you or take turns carrying the heavier bags.
Warming up your muscles before you start your hike will prepare your body for exercise and reduce the chance of injury. It is also important to perform cool down stretches at the end of your route to prevent pain caused by acid build up in the muscles.
Regular stretching will also improve your muscle tone and keep you flexible, minimizing your risk of injury and making you a more competent hiker.
Another important thing to remember is to take your time. Find a comfortable pace that you can maintain over a long distance, and take breaks when necessary. Staying hydrated will help to prevent muscle cramps so be sure to keep sipping water throughout your hike.