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Hiking tips: 5 steps to save your knees

Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On hiking trips, especially those that involve significant or steep downs, your knees often take a pounding. While knee pain can occur at any age, it is more common as you age. Here are 5 tips that can hep prevent or mitigate knee pain:

Knees

  1. Build up your leg strength. Before your hiking trip, start doing squats and lunges with gradually increasing weight. Doing these exercises incorrectly can make your knees worse, so make sure that you get proper instruction. But strengthening the muscles that stabilize the knee joint can do wonders for preventing knee pain.

  2. Use trekking/hiking poles. There are many benefits of using hiking poles, and one of the major ones is that they reduce 20 to 25% of the stress on your knees when you are going downhill. 

  3. Keep your legs loose. Some people have a tendency to walk stiff-legged, especially on a steep trail where they are anxious. The more you can consciously keep your legs a little flexed at the knee, the less pounding your knees get.

  4. Turn sideways on high steps. This allows stronger muscles in your legs to help, which in turn helps you step down more slowly so you don't hit the ground with your foot as hard, thereby decreasing the pressure on your knee.

  5. Walk slightly pigeon-toed. I was given this suggestion by a physical therapist friend the last time I went hiking, and it made a big difference on some very long downhills. I don't remember why it works, but it sure did for me.

Even if you do all these things, you may still have knee pain at the end of a long hike. This is where those anti-inflammatories, e.g. ibuprofen, ketoprofen, aspirin are worth every penny you pay for them. If you can't take an anti-inflammatory, then acetaminophen is a second choice, as it helps with pain but not inflammation. Some people take drugs in preparation for a hard hike.

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