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How to Deal With a Knee Injury on a Trek
Category Injuries And Recovery Altitude And Health
By Aswati Anand
Knee injuries are tricky to deal with. A lot of trekkers have written to me about the pain and annoyance of living with a knee injury.
Today, I will deal with this question – “What happens if I get injured on a trek?”
My answers are more close to home, because I live with a meniscus tear. I’ve been living with it for over a year now. I hope my story will help and you’ll learn what not to do from it.
As I write this, I’ll be honest with you, I’m very nervous. I just booked myself a Himalayan trek for July. If you’re wondering why the nervousness, let me give you some context.
I have been working at Indiahikes for a year. I may have responded to some of your emails, or picked up some of your calls. You may have seen what I write for the website. But I have never been on an Indiahikes trek.
I joined Indiahikes after quitting my cushy job as an editor in a reputed newspaper. My time in Ladakh, the eastern part of Sikkim and the forests of Meghalaya left me hooked to the mountains. I knew I would fit in Indiahikes: we all share a deep love for the mountains. Within a week of my application, I was sent an offer letter. My excitement knew no bounds.
I took a month to settle into the new work culture. Then I started going on Hiking Club treks. It was exhilarating! To be a part of team, to manage children, to work “on location.”
Then came the trek that changed my year.
It was a trek to Nandi One near Bangalore. On one particular stretch, I took a big step and hauled myself up on one leg.
That was the sound I heard from my knee. I did not take it too seriously. I went ahead on the trek.
When the pain started building, I told my team about it. They didn’t take it as seriously either. I had brushed it off as a little pain. Surely, they must have thought it must be something that could be attended to after the trek.
As the trek went on, I could feel my knee cap roll. My knee began to throb. By the last stretch of the trek, I was scared my knee would give away. I was holding onto my leg, like it was about to dismantle.
I limped my way back to the base. In the car ride back to office, I had my hand on my knee. Still afraid that my leg would fall to bits.
What happened next was pure arrogance and bravado. Even with the pain I had, I refused to rest. I acted like I was normal, completely unaware that I might have a serious knee injury. I climbed stairs, I sat in wrong positions, I did all the things that I shouldn’t do with a knee injury.
When I finally took my injury seriously after a month of pain– it was too late. Even now, I wonder if I had attended to my injury in its first stages, I would have had a stronger leg today.
Before I move on to what I did for recovery, I think it is important you take away from my experience of getting injured.
Things to Keep in Mind During the Trek to Avoid Injuring Yourself
1. Prevention is better than cure. Good pace and posture on the trek will avoid most injury. While descending bend your knee and apply pressure on the heel rather than the toes.
2. Check your shoe. I was wearing sport shoes (yes, sacrilege) with very little grip and below-par padding. It had no ankle support either. I ended up putting a lot of stress on my leg as a result.
What to do in case of a knee injury
1. Inform your Trek Leader immediately if you feel any of these symptoms: unbearable stress on your knee if you put weight, popping or crunching sound, instability (it will feel like your knee cap is rolling/about to give away) and swelling. Do not take it lightly. Our trek leaders are certified Wilderness First Aid responders. They know how to assess your injury and help you.
2. The first thing you need to find out is if your knee is usable after the injury or not. In simple terms, it is a means to check the severity of the injury. You need to check if you are capable enough to reach a point independently where proper medical help can be provided.
3. If your knee is not usable, then you need to immobilize it. This will involve a 360 degree splint around the knee.
4. In case you can walk but it pains when you do, then you likely need support on your side. You need to provide support to your ligament and tendons. This can be done with a 180 degree support pad from the back to the side.
5. If you still have to trek to the nearest point before you can get help, take help of the trek pole. Take the weight/stress off your injury – whether it is knee or even an ankle. Better yet, grab your friend’s trek pole too.
Recovering From a Knee Injury Takes Time. Don’t Skip These
1. Knee injuries are tricky to handle. However, what your muscles need is rest. Knee injuries in particular need RICE. That is Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This is your first stage of recovery.
If you aggravate your leg like I did in my arrogance, the first stage of your recovery process will take longer. With that aggravation and failure to rest, your knee will act up on occasion. My knee still does if I do a little more than extra activity—even after a year.
2. Depending on the severity of your injury, you will need help from a sports doctor/physiotherapist. After some time, they will give suggest exercises and a diet to follow. The diet generally ups your calcium and protein intake to help your bones and build the muscles.
While I have many misadventures to narrate in my recovery process, I will address the last point of advice. It is important you go to a good physiotherapist. It is important you ask them questions about which muscle is injured and why you are doing a certain exercise.
You must ask them how to do an exercise correctly. What would be the point of going through motions of exercise if it doesn’t end up helping you?
The Makalidurga Team trek. My colleagues and I are resting at Makalidurga top. Picture by Swathi Chatrapathy
As I started exercising and slowly ventured back into some physical activity, I decided to not miss the team trek to Makalidurga. After all, there were so many treks I missed!
To say that was a colossal disaster would be an understatement. While I could go up alright (slower than usual), my descent put me in bed for two days. Makalidurga is a trek full of boulders. The impact on descent was an extremely unpleasant experience, even with the support of a trek pole.
There are two things that I want you to take away from this
1. Do not rush through your recovery process. It is quite frustrating and at times, quite depressing to not go to the mountains when you really want to. However, you need to allow your injury time.
2. Have the body awareness to understand your strength and limitations. Also, have the humility to accept them.
Now that you know what to do when you get injured on a trek, I hope this article has been of help to you. If you have had similar experiences or if you have any more points to add, put in a comment below!
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