Knee pain is a very common sight among trekkers. This type of knee pain is referred to as hiker’s knee. It is 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. A study found that the compressive forces were 3-4 times greater during downhill trekking.
Arjun Majumdar, founder of Indiahikes shares his observation. “I have noticed that most trekkers get pain in the knee while trekking downhill. One of the reasons is that they trek too carefully, almost like braking, while descending, resisting the natural gravitational pull. This results in stress on the knees. Trekkers must let themselves a little loose, allowing the pull of gravity to be part of the trek. A slightly faster pace than usual can reduce knee pain considerably. Using a trekking pole will further reduce knee pain.”
Here are a few tips to avoid developing a hiker’s knee:
Hiker’s need to put their body into a rhythmic spring like motion while descending a slope. Do not attempt to hold yourself back more than required, as braking too much during a descent causes the knee to jerk. Take advantage of gravity and hike down at a rhythmic pace. Vivian Sebastian, physiotherapist and trek leader at Indiahikes says, “Trekkers usually are scared and put excessive pressure on the knees while hiking downhill, causing their knees to swell. You need to let gravity carry half your body weight. It is a technique that the body needs to learn.”
Do not hike downhill too quickly if the terrain is rocky. Rapid descents on hard ground intensify compressive forces, thus increasing the negative impact on your knees. “Overpronation of the foot is another cause for knee pain”, says Dr. Shantala. Those who overpronate tend to push off almost completely from the big toe and second toe. As a result, the shock from the foot’s impact doesn’t spread evenly throughout the body leading to increased load on the knee joint.
Do not leap
Do not attempt to leap, especially during descents as landing too hard on your heels transfers’ immense shock to the knees.
Strengthen your leg muscles
Condition your leg muscles by performing weight exercises that work out your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. This will help reduce the stress endured by your knees while hiking. “Simple and complex squats can help strengthen the quadriceps. One must ensure that the body weight while squatting is on the quadriceps and not the knees. The knee cap must be behind/in line with your toes while squatting. Never in front of it.”, says Vivian.
Use hiking poles
According to a study published in the “Journal of Sport Sciences” hiking poles help reduce compressive forces by 25%. It helps redistribute load-bearing body weight to the arms and shoulders, thus reducing the impact exerted on the knees.
Wear knee braces
Wearing knee braces can give your knee additional support. These are not essential and must be worn only when you feel your knees may require external support.
Wear quality hiking shoes/boots
What you wear on your feet is probably the most important consideration for any trekker. While choosing a hiking shoe utmost importance must be given to its quality. Hiking boots with shock absorbing soles and ankle support will negate the impact of any shock endured during hikes.
Stretch your muscles before and after hiking
Stretching your muscles before you begin your trek is essential as it allows your body to become more pliable and less prone to injuries. It is particularly important to stretch your lower body and legs as these muscles are going to be worked on more intensely during the trek.
It is also equally, if not more, important to stretch your muscles post the trek. Your muscles are usually contracted after a long day’s trek and it is important to get the muscles back to its normal length. This will also reduce potential soreness.
Dr. Shantala Yogi, renowned sports physiotherapist shares her views on hiker’s knee, “Patellofemoral pains are more common among sports persons. Yes! though surprising, it is true. This is common due to wear and tear in the joint related to high levels of stress that sports exerts on joints.”
However, non-sports persons may also develop knee pain. Dr. Shantala opines, “It is important to undergo a physical fitness test if one has a history of such pain before going hiking. Getting fit for a trek is essential. Slight pain can be treated with the right amount of rest and exercise. One must start preparation early to enjoy their hiking experience.”