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.

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.

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.

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.

25 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. If the pain is on the outer side of your knee then do a lot of stretches for the ilio-tibial band on the affected leg in particular. Youtube has lots of good demo tutorials and the stretches are very easy. From the description of your condition it sounds like the most likely cause. Add the standard stretch for hamstring also. Have you noticed what footballers do when they get hamstring injuries? They lie flat on the ground, leg held up and the toes are made to point towards the body. Fantastic stretch for the hamstring.
      If you have problem with stairs you should not go for jogs or other sporting activities.

  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.

  6. Thanks Swati
    It is a very good thing you are doing here by giving tips on the right way to hike .
    When we started hiking there was no media and we learnt everything the hard way .
    Keep it up as you are imparting good tips and insight so that hiking can be safe and fun

  7. hi, I want to ask how it is advisable to use knee caps while trekking? is there any medicine or spray would you like to suggest to get instant relief of pain? why i ask this when u are trek u have to walk n if walking is little painful than u just tried to finish the trek without enjoying the nature.

  8. Hi, I had knee pain while descending on the trek but it did not last long. Once the trek was over the pain was gone in a week or so. Now before the trek I used to do stretching, 150-200 squats, 20*2 set lunges, dynamic stretch, use stairs every day and running 5 km thrice a week and 10 km on every Sunday. What should I increase in my excercise schedule so that again I don’t go through this pain on my next trek?

    1. hi Ritu,
      It seems like you have been training well, but pain on knee cap while descending can mean load on the knee cap. this can be minimized by
      – stretching the quadriceps muscle in kneeling position (look for videos on you-tube)
      – strengthening the hip/ gluteal muscles.
      when we are descending the load is 1.5 to 3 times body weight and this is stabilised by the hip muscles. it is important to strengthen the glute muscles and having strong core , which will limit the load falling on the knees.
      – you can add weights in the squats, add split squats and strengthen calf muscles.

      hope this helps!

  9. I am 65 years old and have been trekking since I was 14, in the Cascade Mountains of the United States Pacific Northwest. At one point I was practicing for a half marathon that had a 1000 m climb and descent , and my doctor saw me hobbling along on sore knees, and broke down laughing at how lame I looked. He showed me an exercise to toughen the knee, and three weeks later I ran the half marathon with no knee braces and no pain. The difference between what he showed me, and what is in the exercise link posted in this article, is that he said to do not extend your leg all of the way when doing the leg lifts. If you straighten your leg all the way in a sitting position, it deforms the knee as you reach horizontal. He instead recommended what he calls a 6 degree leg lift. The motion of the knee while hiking does not describe a full 90° arc, or even 45°. The bend and flex of the knee is actually a very small angle in normal use and that is where you want to toughen and tighten the quadriceps that hold it together. So doing a lot of 6 degree leg lifts with an increasing amount of weight, up to 40 kg, is what has been helping me keep my knees functioning for the past 25 years. Hope that helps.

  10. Regarding recovery from injuries, I have torn an ACL, and broken my right ankle four times. I learned from my doctors that ligaments and tendons contain nerve cells which help tell the brain where the appendage is in three dimensional space. When you sprain twist Terror or otherwise damaged a joint, ligaments and tendons are usually damaged with it, and when that happens the nerve cells are killed. When the tissue rebuilds itself, new nerve cells are created as well, but they need to be trained, much as a baby learning to walk his training not only its brain, but also the nerve cells in all of that connective tissue. Otherwise oh, there is a probability that the same injury will occur again , because of lack of coordination. So I have been instructed to use what is called a wobble board, and to walk as frequently as possible on uneven surfaces, to retrain the new nerve cells in the repairing tissue.
    Needless to say, I use trekking poles all of the time while hiking. Going uphill I use one, and going downhill I use two, because that is where I have broken my ankle. For this reason, it has been well worth it to me to invest in very lightweight but strong poles. I used what R E I called women’s poles until the carbon-fiber poles were developed.

  11. Regarding recovery from injuries, I have torn an ACL, and broken my right ankle four times. I learned from my doctors that ligaments and tendons contain nerve cells which help tell the brain where the appendage is in three dimensional space. When you sprain twist, tear or otherwise damag a joint, ligaments and tendons are usually damaged with it, and when that happens the nerve cells are killed. When the tissue rebuilds itself, new nerve cells are created as well, but they need to be trained, much as a baby learning to walk is training not only its brain, but also the nerve cells in all of that connective tissue. Otherwise, there is a probability that the same injury will occur again , because of lack of coordination. So I have been instructed to use what is called a wobble board, and to walk as frequently as possible on uneven surfaces, to retrain the new nerve cells in the repairing tissue.
    Needless to say, I use trekking poles all of the time while hiking. Going uphill I use one, and going downhill I use two, because that is where I have broken my ankle. For this reason, it has been well worth it to me to invest in very lightweight but strong poles. I used what R E I called women’s poles until the carbon-fiber poles were developed.
    I have tried about seven styles of bracing over the decade. For me, simple non-streching patella straps work better than the bulkier knee braces.

  12. I just returned from my goecha la pass trek. My knee is perfect. However, I got lot of pain in my feet because of improper shoe size.
    Kindly tell some thing about selecting a proper shoe size and how laces to be tied.

  13. Knee pain caused by overuse of untrained and unused muscles is caused by tight leg muscles. Three four different muscles are the usual suspects. Calf, quads, ilio-tibial band and hamstring – the last three being most common. There are some very basic and highly effective stretches for these muscles. Learn them well, practice and implement them. No amount of sprays can quite help like a good stretch or massage can. In extreme cases carrying a small wooden massage roller can also be considered.
    Proper hydration is also critically important to keep the muscles supple.
    If you have bursitis problem stretching alone may not help. Add some strength building exercise also, for the thighs in particular.

  14. Hi Swati,

    Came back from a trek when i received this article of yours and experiencing pain in my Knees.

    Nicely explained and very good insights are given by you. Did some exercises advised in the article and now i am ready for my next expedition. 🙂

    Keep sharing the knowledge and experience you have. Looking forward for more KSS. 😉

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