How To Avoid Knee Injuries On your Trek

A few weeks ago, I had written about common ailments trekkers face on their treks. Over a 1000 trekkers responded about the ailments they faced.

And quite a few of them spoke about knee injury.

I’m not surprised. Knee injuries are caused by excessive strain or overuse of your knees, which may result in pain around your knee cap. It usually arises after long hours of trekking and is intensified when trekking downhill.

Knee injury trekking hiking prevention knee pain
Many trekkers complain of knee injuries after long treks. It’s important to try and prevent them. This article will tell you how.

The worst part is that knee injuries last a long time. And it takes months to recover.

So today, I’ll tell you how to avoid it.

Let’s dive right in.

Before your trek

Most trekkers believe that learning how to descend safely will help avoid knee injuries. But your prevention process actually starts months before your trek.

You would know that your leg muscles play the biggest role on your trek — mainly your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Your glutes also have a role to play. The stronger these muscles are, the less pressure there is on your knees while trekking.

So your target is to strengthen these muscles before your trek.

How can you go about it?

There are a few universally known exercises that help you strengthen your legs. 

> Running – This is a no brainer! Even running thrice a week can help strengthen your lower half effectively.
> Squats – Apart from traditional squats, you could mix it up with jump squats and sumo squats
> Lunges – Do a mix of both, side and forward lunges
> Different kinds of leg lifts – You could do these standing, kneeling and also lying on your back
> Tip toe exercises – There are lots of exercises that you can do — like tip toe lateral jumps, or moving to your toes and back in a plank position. These are specifically to strengthen your calves.

These are just few exercises that we do in our workouts at office. There are umpteen videos on Youtube for each muscle. Just look them up and do at least a 20 minute set everyday, in addition to your run.

On your trek

There are a few basic things you must follow while trekking to avoid knee injuries.

1. Use a Trekking Pole – I have said this before, I’ll say it again. Trekking poles are seriously life leg savers on your trek, especially when you’re descending.

How do they help? When you’re trekking, they help redistribute the weight to different parts of your body — your arms, your core. They give you a strong sense of balance and control. They also come with shock absorbers. So they help reduce the impact of your step on the ground.

We recently even had an interesting conversation about whether two trekking poles are better than one! It had some very interesting insight. Read about it here.

2. Learn to descend the right way – I’ve noticed many trekkers not paying attention to how they descend. And this is when most knee injuries occur.

Descending safely has a science behind it. And I explain that in this video. I strongly recommend watching it. There’s also an article on descending safely here if you would rather read it.

3. Stretch well before and after your trek – If you’re trekking with Indiahikes, your Trek Leader will make you do this. But if you’re trekking on your own, this is something you must make a habit.

Stretching before your trek makes your muscles more pliable and flexible, thereby reducing possibilities of injury. As for after your trek, your muscles are usually contracted after a long day’s trek and it is important to get the muscles back to their normal length.

4. Use the right gear – Your trekking shoes make a big difference to your knees. You will notice that most good trekking shoes have thick soles. They also have solid ankle support. These are meant to minimise the impact that your every step has on your knees. This video will help you understand how to choose the right trekking shoes.

On the other hand, if you have a weak knee, it’s important to be prepared with a knee brace to use while descending. It gives your knee muscles some much-needed extra support.

After your trek

After you return from your trek, it’s important to care for your knee.

Give your knee perhaps 4-5 days of rest after the trek before getting onto your fitness routine again. Continue with the exercises mentioned to strengthen your knee. It’s a good practice to include that in your fitness routine.

If you feel a niggle in your knee after your trek, then you must pay attention to it immediately. The earlier you start the recovery process, the better it is!

This article here will tell you exactly how to recover from a knee injury.

How To Recover From Your Knee Injury Before Your Trek

It has some wonderful exercises suggested by a pioneering sports institute in India.

If you have any exercises or tips, drop in a comment below.

It will surely help all other trekkers in the community!

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Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy is the Chief Editor at Indiahikes. She also runs a video series, Trek With Swathi. Before joining Indiahikes, she worked as a reporter and sub-editor at Deccan Chronicle. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications such as Deccan Herald. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates that mind like nothing else can.Read Swathi's other articles. Watch Swathi's video series here.

13 thoughts on “How To Avoid Knee Injuries On your Trek

  1. I recently completed a trek and suffered from Hiker’s Knee. And 10 days later, I still feel a slight pain and discomfit in my knees while ascending or descending stairs or during other activities. I was wondering if you could tell me, how much time may I expect this condition to last and do I need to take any precautions while it lasts. For example, shall I avoid jogging or engaging in sports?

    1. Hi Rahul, it is not uncommon to have knee pain after your trek. It could any time between a week to a month to go away. Your best option is to go by the standard mantra – RICE. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Rest your legs for a couple of weeks. As you mentioned, avoid jogging, quick descent or ascent on stairs. Just rest. Also, use an ice pack everyday at least twice. If your knee feels very tender when you walk, use a knee brace. That might help. And when you sleep, keep a pillow or a rolled up yoga mat below your knee to give it a slight elevation.

      Next time, to avoid this pain, before your trek, work specifically on strengthening the ligaments around your knee. There are several exercises for this. This will make sure the ligaments take some pressure off your knee when you descend.

        1. Lunges carrying weight in each hand that when combined equals the pack load that you intend to carry works very well as a hiking exercise.

  2. I did Roopkund and Rupin in successive years. Both from Indiahikes. This is precisely the reason why I have stayed away from treks after that. My left knee has been diagnosed with patella arthritis. I have tried everything. But “Swathi” if you can send across the suggestive exercises specifically for ligament strengthening – I’d be mighty obliged!

  3. Hi Nisha,

    I was recently on a one night, two day backpacking trip which was about 8 miles each way. This was my first overnight backpacking trip, and I chose the Kisatchie national park in Louisiana because it seemed easy with little elevation gain ( about 600 ft each direction ).

    Previously I had only day hiked, so my 35-40 pound backpack was heavier than I was accustomed to. I got an early start and hiked the 8 mile trek to the campsite in about 3.5 hours. During this time I felt some strain on my quads and a little on my right knee, but nothing too serious.

    After setting up camp and gathering firewood for a while, the pain towards the top of my right knee cap began to intensify. At this point I relaxed and began sipping on the half-pint of decent Scotch that I had stowed away. Along with 2 Aleve, the Scotch dulled the pain and I fell asleep quickly.

    The next morning I awoke to the sounds of chirping birds in a rain shower, and increased knee pain. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t discouraged by the Pain, Rain, and the 8 Miles I had to hike to my car. I managed to pack everything up and start off by 7:30am.

    Besides the pain in my knee, I had the usual soreness in the quads. ( For a person not quite in shape ). Once I got going, the pain in my Quads diminished, as the pain in my knee worsened. After the first mile, the pain in my knee forced me to slow my pace and straighten my leg, especially when going downhill.

    The next 7 miles were terrible. I basically limped and hobbled the entire way. It was cold and raining, and the rolling hills of the Pine Forest made things difficult. Things were much more difficult on the knee during declines. During that 5 hour hike, I worried that I may have torn a ligament. The sharp pain on the top of my knee was not something I had never felt.

    Wet, cold and hurting, I made it to my car around 12:30pm. I drove the 2 hours home, laid in bed, and took 3 Naproxen.

    The knee pain was diminished the next day, and even more the day after that. Now three days removed, I have been researching to quell my worries that I may have seriously injured something. I ran across your article, which seems to describe my injury to a T.

    Thanks for the great article. I hope to read something from you in the future.

    Brian

  4. Hello,
    I am an avid hiker in the southwest region of the U.S. which involves steep and rocky terrain. I recently hyper extended my knee and want to get a knee brace/sleeve. I have noticed that some styles cover the entire knee and some have the kneecap exposed. What is the difference ? Is it better to have exposed kneecap on sleeve as in your picture here?
    Thank You!
    Troy

    1. Hello Troy,
      The open kneecap does not cover the joint and hence is more flexible. It is not too tight and can be used easily for extended periods of time compared to the closed ones.
      The closed ones provide lot more rigid support to the knee than the open one. For most active people, open knee cap is usually suggested.
      However, I would recommend you ask a doctor for what would suit you since you have a specific injury.

  5. Hi nisha

    I am a person who is really interested in hiking and even writes about it.

    However, I am little too heavy and that caused me a lot of knee injuries.

    I am currently using one (knee brace) and I don’t think that is one of the best. I am going to order one today based on what I have read from this.

    Thank you so much.

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