So, you are on a hike or doing a lot of walking, and realize that your knees are not feeling as resilient as they used to be. Our instinct with pain is to try and move on and ignore it, however as we get older, sometimes that pain in your knees becomes so unbearable that it’s no longer easy to ignore. That independence and ability to do those activities you have always loved has unfortunately been hindered by something you can’t control. The most important thing is knowing when to tell your body to stop, and discovering what is causing your knee pain in order to treat it.
Hiking and Knee Pain:
No joint is more prone to injury than the knee. Now, you would think with all the cartilage, ligaments, and muscles, that your knees would be super sturdy and last forever. However, fact is, of all your skeletal system’s bone-to-bone connections, none is more vulnerable to wear and tear, or the root cause of as many chronic problems, than the knee. With the extreme demands we put on this joint while hiking or other extensive walking, pain is often the result.
One of the most common types is pain around or behind the kneecaps, which is often diagnosed as a condition known as Chondromalacia (disintegration of the cartilage), or Patellofemoral Stress Syndrome, more commonly called “runner’s knee.” The symptoms of this type of knee pain worsen when walking up or down stairs, walking uphill, running, jumping or activities that force the knee to bear weight as it is straightened, like rock climbing. In hikers, knee pain is often caused by over pronation where the lower leg twists inward when walking or running, which can be caused by worn hiking boots or muscular weakness in the quadriceps and hamstrings.
Pain in your knees makes for quite an unpleasant hike. In other words, knee injuries can happen doing practically any activity, such as running, skiing, and cycling, but the constant pounding of hiking for hours can really wear out your joints. You may get a serious injury such as a torn ligament if you twist wrong or take a fall while hiking, but chances are your knees will simply get tired out and inflamed from too much work.
Downhill hiking is the major cause of knee problems. When hiking uphill, the muscles work hard to lift your weight, but when coming downhill, gravity is pulling your weight down so the muscles don’t work so hard, causing stress, irritation and inflammation, due to your joints absorbing the impact of your weight being pulled down the mountain. The faster you hike downhill, the higher you raise the risk of injury. The impact to your body is amplified as you hike faster. Taking your time going downhill is safer and less damaging to your knees and other joints. Just like a mechanical device, the joints in your body can wear out if they are overworked and not given a chance to recover.
How to treat and find relief from knee pain:
1. Condition your leg muscles: Making the muscles that support your knees stronger will help reduce the stress on the knee joints. Use weight exercises to strengthen your hamstrings, quads, and calves.
2. Use a hiking stick or poles: Besides providing extra stability against falls, the reduced weight on the knees is a big help. Two hiking poles are more appropriate for knee support since both legs need the help.
3. Hike Slowly and Carefully: Taking your time going downhill is safer and less damaging to your knees and other joints. Just like a mechanical device, the joints in your body can wear out if they are overworked and not given a chance to recover.
4. Take Anti-inflammatory’s: Take medication like ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and bring temporary relief.
5. Wear Supportive Shoes: Consider wearing more shock-absorbing shoes instead of sturdier boots. But, be careful of the lost ankle and foot support.
6. Use the RICE Method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation for recovery.
If you may be experiencing knee pain due to hiking or other physical activities, call Dr. Bill Hefley at (800) 336-2412 to request an appointment, or request an appointment online.