Hiking offers incredible rewards—beautiful vistas of towering forests, soaring mountainsides, and yawning canyons—but they can also leave you with sore, throbbing knees. What can hikers do to enjoy nature and protect their knees? Read on to find out.
Demands on the Knee
To navigate gains and losses in elevation, hikers subject their bodies to forces they’re not accustomed to on level ground, which presents a greater potential for pain or injury. Our knees must work especially hard in such environments, making knee pain a common occurrence on the trail. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize knee pain during hikes.
According to a recent Harvard Medical School article, your knees absorb a force 2 to 3 times your body weight on inclines or declines, and 4-5 times that force when squatting. Over the course of a hike these stresses can add up to very sore knees, especially when hiking through rugged terrain.
Depending on where you venture, how many miles you put in, and how much you’re packing, you could be exerting as much as five times your body weight on your knees for hours – and sometimes days – on end! This is why even fit, experienced hikers can still be struck by knee pain during their outdoor adventures.
Strategic Support: Tips for Dealing with Knee Pain on Hikes
Veteran hikers can keep at the trails year in and year out because they’ve learned some key strategies for properly supporting their knees against the pressures of the hike.
These strategies are not a guarantee that you won’t at some point experience serious pain or injury, in which case you should seek the advice of a medical professional. But taking these measures into account will go a long way towards alleviating the demands we make on our knees.
Exercising the muscles of the leg, especially the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, can help to head off knee pain from the start. These muscles surround, support, and stabilize the knee, absorbing and offsetting some of the impact upon it.
Stretching those legs before and after the hike is also crucial. This is because stretching warms and loosens your muscles, increases flexibility, reduces soreness, and limits the chances of injury by making movements more fluid and dynamic.
If and when knee pain does occur, there are also specialized stretches that can help to address it.
Hiking uphill and hiking downhill require different tactics. While going uphill requires more physical exertion, going downhill can exert more physical force on the body. This is why knees are more prone to pain on the downslope: because the impact on them is greater. The trick is to walk in such a way that lessens this impact.
Walking straight down the trail at high speed isn’t the best approach. Instead, weaving from side-to-side at a steady, rhythmic pace will shorten your steps and keep you from lurching from one foot to the next.
It’s also important to avoid jumping from higher points to lower ones. It’s better to use your arms for support while lowering yourself down, easing rather than crashing your way onto your feet.
Hiking poles allow you to redistribute weight away from your legs, letting the arms and shoulders take on a portion of the force acting on your knees. Hiking poles can be especially helpful when used to stabilize the high-impact momentum of moving downhill.
A quality pair of hiking shoes or boots can reduce stress on the knees by helping to absorb the force of your footfall. Consider ones that fit snuggly, feel strong and sturdy, and that cushion and support both the foot and ankle.
Finally, patella tendon support straps can relieve pressure on tender knees and secure them from wayward movements that add to inflammation.
What is it?
Often referred to by other common names such as runner’s knee or jumper’s knee, patellar tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon connecting your kneecap to your shinbone (your patella to your tibia). This inflammation can range from mild discomfort to a severe pain sensation, and is caused by repetitive stress on the knee over time, typically in sports or exercise. This stress can produce miniscule tears in the tendon tissue that, with time, inflame and weaken the tendon itself.
Athletes tend to suffer more often from patellar tendonitis, as running, jumping, and squatting can exert more force on the patellar tendon, leading to injury. It’s very common among athletes, including runners, soccer players, and especially among volleyball players, an estimated 14.4% of whom suffer from the condition.
What are the symptoms?
Patellar tendonitis is characterized by pain and tenderness below the patella (kneecap). You may also experience swelling as well as a burning sensation in the kneecap. It can be especially painful doing squats—both as you kneel and as you stand up.
At first, you may only experience the pain occasionally, during or after sports activities or exercise. As the patellar tendon becomes further damaged, the pain can intensify, eventually interfering with athletics, and even routine activities such as sitting in a chair or climbing stairs.
What can I do about it?
Before you begin any treatment or exercise regimen, you should be sure to see a doctor who can help you decide on a plan that’s right for you.
Typical treatments may include resting the leg, stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as anti-inflammatory medication. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be referred to a physical therapist, who can provide more specific exercises for strengthening and toning the surrounding muscles, and stabilizing the patellar tendon.
In addition to these approaches, you can also use a specific type of knee brace known as a patellar tendon support strap.
Those suffering from knee pain often use patellar tendon support straps to stabilize the patellar tendon and alleviate pain. They can be used during exercise or as part of a broader recovery or therapy program.
At Athlerus, we’ve dedicated ourselves to producing the best patellar tendon strap on the market today, offering premium support, dual adjustable straps, and reflective lining for low-light visibility. While there is no one solution to knee pain, our patellar tendon support straps can be a helpful addition to your knee pain management regimen.
This week, which saw the launch of Athlerus's first athletic brace--a reflective patellar tendon support strap—has gotten me thinking an awful lot about the value of perseverance, of not giving up when obstacles are thrown in your way. When you set your mind on a goal, any goal at all, you are bound to encounter difficulties both large and small. Whether you succeed or not depends largely on your reaction to setbacks and hardship. Do you shrink from the challenge, or do you persevere?
We all know we "should" choose to persevere, to push on, but that often sounds a lot better than it feels at the time. There have been more obstacles and hardships than I'd care to list as we sought to design the very best patella tendon support straps available on the market today. But all that effort, those late nights, the research sessions and email correspondence, all of it has led up to our launch this week, and I couldn't be prouder. As a sufferer of knee pain, I iterated these patella tendon straps and tested each version myself. If it wasn't good enough for me, it certainly wasn't good enough for our customers.
In that way, launching Athlerus has been a lot like the refusal to accept knee pain as "the way things are." Our improved, best-of-breed patella tendon support straps have enabled me to become active in spite of patellar tendonitis that would otherwise prevent me from going on the runs that keep me sane, fit, and (mostly) clear-headed.
Here's to what's next.