Knee pain while hiking is an incredibly common issue. In fact, it is probably the single most reported injury on the trail! And if you are unlucky enough to suffer from this, you will know it can really suck a lot of the enjoyment away from your adventures… and whether you are simply wanting to go for a weekend hike around your local national park or climb one of the highest mountains in the world, it is something you really don’t want to have to deal with!
But luckily for you, you don’t have to live with this. There are a number of things which you can do to help prevent this pain. And with a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of patience, many people can significantly reduce the occurrence of knee pain on the trail.
Tips For Avoiding Knee Pain On The Trail
1) Strengthen The Quadriceps and Glutes
The single most effective way to reduce knee pain while hiking, is to strengthen the stabilising muscles of the joint. And the two most important muscles here, are the quads (front of thighs) and glutes (bum). If these are not strong enough, they will fatigue prematurely and allow additional movement through the knee. Which is not a good thing…
A few great exercises to help here include:
- Step downs
- Single leg deadlifts
- Glute bridges
- Mini-band walks
If you would like to see what this looks like in a simple workout, you can check out this article.
2) Mobilise The Ankles And Hips
One of the major causes of knee pain, is when the joints above and below the knee are restricted. The knee is a joint which naturally wants to be ‘stable’ The ankles and the hips are
joints which naturally want to be ‘mobile’. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, many people ankles and hips become unnecessarily tight. When this happens, the body will
compensate by allowing more movement through the knee. Which, as stated above, is something which you really do want to avoid.
If you know that one, or both, of these joints, are tight – it is highly recommended you spend some time mobilising them!
This is best done through a combination of:
- Foam rolling
- Structured warm-ups before hiking/exercise
*This process takes consistency and time. You will not see any great results from stretching for 30 seconds at a time, a couple of times week… Try to find time through the week which you can regularly commit to mobilisation. Great examples here can be: in front of the tv, while you are waiting for the kettle to boil, during ‘rest’ periods between your strengthening exercises etc
3) Use Trekking Poles
These are the closest thing to a ‘magic pill’ a hiker can find for knee pain. The major benefit of trekking poles is that, during descents, they can reduce the force going through the knee by up to 30%. Which is absolutely huge! And many people report simply by incorporating poles into their hiking, that they significantly reduce the incidence and severity of knee pain on the
Trekking poles also are great aids for both balance and stability. By using them, you can reduce the likelihood of a slip, stumble or fall – which is often a common aggravator of knee
pain on the trail. And finally, trekking poles can improve movement efficiency when hiking up hills. This means that you will delay your legs and stabilising muscles from fatiguing prematurely. The
value of this cannot be understated!.
Read more about trekking poles here
4) Practice The Heel Push
Even though downhills are the usual culprits when it comes to knee pain, many people experience pain during ascents as well. If this is you, using the ‘heel push’ technique can be
very effective. When climbing hills or stairs, many people tend to walk up and ‘push’ through their toes each step. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, if you suffer from knee pain, this can put a bit of unnecessary force through your knees.
Alternatively, if you plant your foot and try to ‘push’ through your heel each step, you can allow the glutes and hamstrings to contribute a bit more to the work, and significantly reduce forces going through your knee. And over the long term, this can make a serious difference!
5) Drop Some Weight
For every kilo of weight you carry, your knees take a hugely disproportionate amount of extra force through the joint. So for every kilo you can reduce, you will take a huge amount of
pressure off your knees! Weight can be lost in two areas: either through gear/equipment or through body weight (I know I know, this is much easier said than done!). If you suffer from knee pain while hiking, and you are aware you are carrying a few unnecessary kilos, it might be beneficial to look into reducing this where you can.
6) Pack Your Bag Right
Sometimes a simple shift in the contents of your pack, can make all the difference on the trail.
When packing your bag, ensure that your heavy items are not sitting in the top of your pack. But instead, pack the heavy stuff lower, so they are sitting close to your hips. On top of this,
ensure that your bag is not unevenly weighted (which might put some added risk to your knees in itself).
Knee pain while hiking is not something you have to live with. Apply these tips into your life and you will be well on your way to enjoying pain-free hiking once again!
Rowan Smith is the founder of Summit Strength, a personal training service which specialises in preparing amateur hikers, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures. He is all about giving outdoor enthusiasts the very best advice, support and guidance to allow them to ensure a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure, wherever that may be.
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