A weight-bearing hinge joint is not a structurally ideal setup for hiking; knee pain is a common hiking ailment. In a study by Harvard Medical School, walking at an incline puts two to three times your body weight on your knees, and walking at a decline puts even more pressure on them.
Your hiking health can be affected by the little decisions you make. If you carry too much weight on your back, your knees and joints are under pressure. Poorly fitting shoes can cause blisters and even change how you walk, increasing your risk of injury. Also, choosing to go sans trekking pole means you are absorbing a lot of unnecessary weight (poles distribute the weight more evenly throughout your body). It doesn’t mean you should give up hiking if you start to feel knee pain. Just learn to deal with it smartly.
Why Do Your Knees Hurt While Hiking?
There are many reasons why people suffer from knee pain when hiking. The terrain, stride, and weight load all contribute to the stress on the knees.
Hiking can cause knee pain for beginners and experienced hikers alike. No matter your strength or experience, your knees are susceptible to injury.
Is Hiking Bad For Your Knees?
The knees are susceptible to permanent damage while hiking. However, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your knees and prevent knee injury.
The most common knee injuries you can suffer during hiking are muscle strains, tendon sprains, tendinitis, tendonitis, cartilage tears, ACL injuries, bursitis, arthritis, and bursitis.
The risk of knee injury varies from hiker to hiker. Several factors can factor into knee injuries, including leg, knee, foot, hip, and muscle development.
In the event of knee pain while hiking, you should pay attention. Pain, swelling, heat, redness, and loss of mobility are all signs that your knees are in need of protection, so they will continue to serve you for years to come.
Do not play around if you believe you may have an injury. Seek medical attention right away.
Is Hiking Downhill Bad for Your Knees?
Hiking downhill with a dysfunctional knee joint increases the force applied to your knees, resulting in greater chances of pain and injury3.
Generally speaking, knee injuries occur when you hike downhill improperly, but you can minimize their impact with the right techniques.
Below are some tips on how to hike downhill properly…
Is Hiking Uphill Bad for Knees?
Injuries to your knees are less likely when hiking uphill due to the lower weight-bearing impact, though the damage is still possible.
When hiking uphill, many hikers tend to let their knees track forward, causing pain and damage to their cartilage. To minimize the possibility of knee damage and pain, keep your knee and shin vertical.
What causes knee pain after hiking?
You must determine what is causing your knee pain before you can begin treating it. The first step to resolving your knee pain is to get a diagnosis from your physician.
Here are some of the most common causes of knee pain after hiking, along with the symptoms that typically accompany them. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
You may be experiencing bursitis if your knee feels warm, tender, and swollen. This pain typically occurs below the joint on the inner side of your knee.
Bursitis in the knee occurs when a small fluid-filled sac called a bursa becomes inflamed. Bursas reduce friction and cushion pressure points between bones, muscles, tendons, and skin near the joints.
Often caused by frequent kneeling or a blow to the knee, this condition can also result from overuse or strenuous exercise.
2. Knee tendinitis
You may experience sharp, shooting pain and tenderness above or below your kneecap if you have tendonitis. Swelling and a burning sensation may also accompany tendinitis.
A tear in a tendon can lead to a weak, inflamed tendon. Tendons are fibrous tissue bands that connect muscles to bones. This condition is commonly caused by repetitive stress on the knee.
Tendinitis involves inflammation, while tendinosis does not. It will be painful, but there will usually be no redness or burning. You may also have stiffness and restricted mobility due to the breakdown of tendons.
As with overuse, tendinosis is generally caused by overuse and repetitive stress on the knees. It is more common in older adults, since the joints become less flexible with age. Individuals with arthritis are also more susceptible to tendinitis.
4. Meniscus tear
You may have experienced a meniscus tear if your knee pops when you hike. When you forcefully twist your knee, especially while putting your weight on it, this occurs. Perhaps you were descending a steep hill or kneeling with a heavy backpack when you experienced this.
When torn, your knee will experience swelling, stiffness, and sharp pain when rotating or twisting. Each knee has two menisci, which cushion the shin and thigh bones.
5. ACL damage
One of the most commonly injured knee ligaments is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The ACL can be torn or sprained due to sudden stops or sudden changes in direction, as well as excessive ankle flexion.
These are some of the symptoms and signs:
- Rapid swelling
- Severe pain
- A reduction in range of motion
- There is a loud “popping” sound
- When you put weight on your knees, you feel unstable
6. Syndrome of synovial plicas
Plicas are folds in the tissue surrounding a joint. They are enclosed in synovial membranes, which contain fluid.
It is a condition that occurs when your synovial plica becomes inflamed after being stressed or overused. The swollen plica is usually found in the middle of your kneecap.
This condition causes achy pain instead of sharp or shooting pain. It may also worsen when bending down or climbing stairs.
7. Syndrome of the iliotibial band
From the hip region all the way down to the back of the knee, the iliotibial band connects muscles to other structures in the lower body.
A condition known as IT band syndrome occurs when the iliotibial band becomes inflamed, tight, or swollen. Inflammation will typically occur on the outside of the knee and can spread to the thigh.
As with overusing a joint, this condition results in knee pain that worsens with movement.
8. The syndrome of patellofemoral pain
The patellofemoral pain syndrome is characterized by pain on the front of the kneecap. It is more prevalent in people who participate in sports that involve running and jumping.
There is usually dull or aching pain, but prolonged sitting, kneeling, and walking can exacerbate it.
9. Knee osteoarthritis
When an older individual overuses a joint, it can result in osteoarthritis, which is a progressive degeneration of cartilage.
A severe and advanced case of osteoarthritis may cause direct bone-on-bone contact, causing chronic pain. Although osteoarthritis can occur anywhere in the body, it is most commonly found in the knees.
How To Prevent Knee Pain When Hiking
Hiking places a great deal of weight on your knees, making them vulnerable to injury. Fortunately, there are simple ways to protect your knees.
1. Use the Right Gear
Protecting your knees while hiking is possible with the right gear.
You can save a lot of stress on your knees by using trekking poles (hiking poles), especially when hiking downhill.
How do hiking poles help?
As you hike, trekking poles help redistribute your weight to your arms and core, improving stability and control while reducing knee and ankle strain.
The Journal of Sports Sciences reported that 12-25% less force was placed on the knee joint.
Shock-absorbing trekking poles are even available! Take a look at the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles.
Supporting and protecting your knee joint is possible with a knee brace.
Consider a knee brace that leaves the kneecap exposed if you don’t have any knee problems and want extra support to protect your knee. A patella brace that allows proper movement and tracking without compressing the knee joint provides support and allows proper movement and tracking, such as the DonJoy Performance Stabilizing Knee Sleeve.
Your doctor or physical therapist can help you determine which knee brace is best for you. There are sleeves, wraps, straps, open and closed patella, and hinged braces.
Hiking boots that fit well
When hiking, your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back will suffer if you wear the wrong footwear.
In addition to improving stability and traction, the best hiking boots cushion your steps to reduce knee joint strain.
The best hiking boots:
- Cushioned well.
- Good traction is provided by thick soles.
- Ensure that your ankles are well supported.
- Material is sturdy yet flexible.
Your gait will be altered if you don’t wear the best hiking boots. This change in gait will cause strain on your knees.
My favorite hiking boot fit is Vasque, so if you have trouble finding the right hiking boot, I recommend consulting a reputable outfitter.
2. Downhill Hike Properly
In order to hike downhill properly, you need to soften the impact of your steps and improve your stability.
- For added stability and weight distribution, use a trekking pole.
- If your ankles are unstable, your changed gait will place added strain on your knees. Avoid hiking boots that lack ankle support and tie your laces tight.
- Stepping with your knees locked, stiff, or tight increases your chance of injury. Keep your knees loose with a spring to your step.
- The right pace on a downward slope will decrease your chances of injury. Let gravity determine your speed. Going too fast will increase your stride, so long strides also put more pressure on your knees. Descending too slowly puts pressure on your knee joints.
- If you hike in a zig-zag path, you will reduce the chances of slipping in loose gravel or mud.
- You will be more stable if you lean back slightly.
- When you need more stability, side-step. Stepping on your toes first increases your chances of slipping and lowers your stability.
3. Hike Uphill Properly
When hiking uphill, keep your shins and knees vertical to the ground by:
- Instead of stepping on your toes, step flat-footed.
- Take short steps, Simplifying the process.
- Don’t lean too far forward and don’t lean backward. Leaning backward will make your knees more strained. Keep your torso over your hips.
4. Pre- and post-hike stretching
The flexibility of your muscles is improved by stretching before you hike, which reduces your chances of being injured.9
Your knees will continue to be strained if you do not stretch after your hike to loosen muscles that have contracted.
5. Reduce the Weight
Weight distribution in your backpack should be evenly distributed, and you should maintain healthy body weight.10 Remove any unnecessary items and learn to evenly distribute your pack’s weight.
6. Make Your Trail Choice Wisely
In order to strengthen your muscles to support the knee joint, start on level surfaces before hiking challenging terrain. Beginners should start on level surfaces before hiking challenging terrain.
There’s one trail I like that is mostly limestone. I don’t hike there very often because of the strain it puts on my knees. The force placed on your knee is lower on dirt than on rocky trails.
7. Visit a Podiatrist
There are some hikers who need orthotics or inserts in their hiking boots to correct foot problems and alignment problems with their knees and hips.
From the ground up, I have orthopedic inserts that I received from my podiatrist.
5 ways to treat knee pain after hiking
It is possible to alleviate knee pain after hiking with several options. Some are simple at-home remedies, while others require your doctor’s guidance.
1. At-home remedies
In most cases, mild pain should be treated with at-home remedies before moving on to more invasive treatments.
The following are included in at-home care:
- You can reduce swelling and restore your range of motion by applying ice or cold packs to your knee three times per day for 10-20 minutes each.
- Alternate applying heated and cold packs if your knee responds well to heat and mild activity.
- If you want to keep your affected knee(s) elevated during rest, use a few pillows, but remember to elevate your entire leg until your ankle is elevated as well.
2. Physical therapy
It may be necessary to take part in a specific routine of stretching and conditioning in order to maintain or regain flexibility. Physical therapy can make it easier for you to heal your knee pain while also conditioning your knees to prevent further injuries.
Physical therapists will develop a treatment plan based on your personal goals and comfort level.
Over-the-counter medications, especially during the acute healing phase after an injury, provide significant relief from hiker’s knee pain for many patients. Aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen are examples of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Hence, these drugs reduce the associated pain by inhibiting the body’s ability to produce inflammatory molecules.
In severe cases, however, these medications may not provide adequate relief. If you have stopped participating in vigorous activity, but still experience significant knee pain, your doctor may suggest more advanced treatment options.
4. Knee injections
It is possible that your doctor will suggest interventional pain management if conventional therapies have not improved your knee pain.
Most people experience pain relief and reduced inflammation for approximately six months after receiving steroid knee injections. While some people respond to one injection, others may need several injections over time.
Surgery is the last resort for severe knee pain. However, your doctor will generally only recommend it if you’ve exhausted other non-invasive options first.
Generally, knee surgery is performed to repair or replace torn ligaments or replace the whole knee (arthroplasty) due to serious damage caused by aging, injury, or excessive use.
It is very common for people to wonder if hiking is bad for their knees, since hiking is a great way to improve your physical and mental health.
In this article, we explained in detail the reasons and preventive measures to avoid knee pain after hiking, so hiking is a great way to unplug, get exercise, and enjoy the great outdoors without worrying about knee pain.