As we get older, our bodies don’t tend to work as well as they used to, which is probably why you want to know how to prevent knee pain when hiking downhill.
Hiking is excellent for people of all ages, but more importantly, it benefits your mental and physical health.
But when you have bad knees, you might worry about getting down the mountain without causing more damage. So, in this article, I will explain in detail what causes bad knees and how to prevent knee pain.
Let’s take a look:
Table of Contents
Here’s Why Your Knees Hurt After Hiking
Throughout the life of a hiker, we put our knees through a significant amount of stress, which doesn’t include our day-to-day life.
Most people experiencing knee pain usually feel it around the knee, just behind the kneecaps, or they feel a general stiffness around the joint.
And the problem is:
When hiking downhill, this pain usually worsens because you’re applying more pressure to your knees.
It’s thought that the amount of force put on your knees when hiking downhill is between 7 to 8.5 times your body weight. And this is only made worse when you’ve got a heavy backpack on your back.
So, that’s why your knees hurt, but what are the leading causes of this pain?
What Causes Knee Pain After Hiking?
To understand how to prevent knee pain while hiking, you need to know the causes of the pain. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t diagnose your symptoms; you’d need to go to a medical professional with that.
What I can do, is introduce you to some of the most common causes of knee pain and what symptoms you might feel:
People with tendonitis usually experience stiffness and restricted movement due to the tendons breaking down. This condition is generally caused by hobbies that strain your knees or overuse.
It’s pretty standard in older people because their joints become less flexible with age; it’s also widespread in people with arthritis.
2. Knee Tendinitis
People who experience knee tendinitis usually experience sharp, shooting pain and tenderness around the kneecap. It’s also not uncommon to experience a burning sensation or to swell around the kneecap.
Again, this condition is usually caused by repetitive stress to the knee. Overuse can cause tiny tears to form in your tendons, weakening and inflamed.
3. ACL Damage
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee. You’ll usually find this injury is caused when the ACL tears or sprains when changing directions too quickly or suddenly stopping.
Signs and symptoms usually include rapid swelling, a popping sensation, the inability to put your body weight on your knee, and severe pain.
4. Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The iliotibial band runs from the hip to the back of the knee and connects your muscles to other structures in your body.
Iliotibial band syndrome is when the tissue becomes inflamed, swollen, or tight. You’ll usually find that the pain feels like it’s on the outside of your knee, which spreads up the hip. Again, this syndrome is generally caused by overuse.
5. Knee Osteoarthritis
Overusing your knee can lead to osteoarthritis, progressive degeneration, or joint loss of cartilage as you age. It can be found in any body part, but it’s most commonly found in the knee.
If you ever feel your knee becoming tender, swollen, or warm, you might be experiencing bursitis. If you have bursitis, you’ll notice the pain on the inner side of your knee, just below the knee joint.
7. Meniscus Tear
If you ever hear a popping noise when you’re hiking, there’s a good chance you’ve just experienced a meniscus tear.
This is usually caused when you’ve forcefully twisted your knee while putting your body weight on it, and it usually happens when you’re walking downhill.
8. Synovial Plica Syndrome
The plica is a fold of tissue that surrounds your knee joint and is surrounded by a fluid-filled capsule called the synovial membrane.
Synovial plica syndrome occurs when the plica becomes inflamed after stress or overuse and can usually be felt in the middle of your knee.
9. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Patellofemoral pain syndrome is when you can feel pain in the kneecap or at the front of the joint. It’s most commonly known as “runner’s knee” because it’s most commonly found in people that like running.
The pain is usually pretty dull and aches more than it hurts. It’s most aggravated by people walking up or down stairs, kneeling, or sitting for prolonged periods.
How To Prevent Knee Pain When Hiking Downhill: 7 Tips
With some of these medical conditions, you don’t have to let it get you down and stop hiking altogether. Instead, it would help if you found suitable precautions to prevent your knee from hurting in the first place.
And in this section, we’re going to discuss all the ways you can prevent knee pain after hiking; sound good?
Great, let’s get started:
1. Make Sure You Use Hiking Poles
There’s a lot of debate around hiking poles and whether they are worth the effort of using them.
And whether you’re a fan of them or not, scientists have confirmed they benefit your joints when you’re hiking. Here’s the thing:
A good set of walking poles can help take the load off your knee joints as you’re walking downhill, which is what we’re looking for. They do this by shifting the weight from your legs to your upper body and core, easing the pressure on your knees.
2. Knee Braces Can Ease The Pain
Another great way of easing the pain in your knee is to look at external support like tape or a knee brace. There’s a good chance your doctor will recommend using a knee brace if you have bad knees.
You also have to remember if the knee brace isn’t addressing the problem, you should probably go and seek medical advice and get it sorted before going on another hike.
3. Take Small, Steady Steps
Taking small steps will help your knees when you’re hiking. Overstriding while walking downhill can cause a lot of damage to your knees.
When taking giant steps, you increase the pressure on your knees and the chance of hyperextension.
Taking smaller steps while hiking downhill makes it much more enjoyable for your knees. Yes, it’s going to make the hike take a little longer, but it will significantly reduce the amount of pain you feel while hiking.
Ideally, you want to try and prevent your torso from moving too far forward or backward, which will help your balance as you move from foot to foot.
4. Make Sure The Surrounding Muscles Are Stronger
Making the muscles stronger around the knee can help to relieve some pressure and make the pain more manageable.
For instance, if you train your glutes, it can work wonders for reducing knee pain. Many people like to use yoga as a low-impact exercise that helps to build stability.
5. Save Weight In Your Backpack
Having an overly heavy backpack on will put unnecessary strain on your knees. Before you leave, you need to think about what you’re putting in your bag.
If you don’t 100% need the item, it’s probably best to leave it behind or try to find a lighter version of it. For example, if you have a heavy water bottle, why not switch it for a water pouch?
You can learn more about how to pack your backpack here!
6. Wear Supportive Footwear
One thing that many people don’t realize is that wearing the wrong footwear can increase knee pain. And this is why you need to look at hiking boots that are both comfortable and supportive.
Make sure your hiking shoes fit well and have enough cushioning to keep your knee joints from hurting.
7. Make Sure Your Stretch Before Starting
The final piece of advice I can give you is to stretch before and after your hiking trip. Stretching and warming up your muscles before you start goes a long way to preventing injuries.
Managing Knee Pain: 3 Ways To Treat Knee Pain After Hiking
Okay, we know some of the causes and how to avoid knee pain, but how do you treat it?
Before we start, I want to stress that I’m not a medical professional, so it’s always best to consult them first.
But here are some methods that can help reduce pain:
1. Treat It At Home
One of the best ways to treat knee pain at home is to use an ice pack to help reduce the swelling around your knee. You should repeat this around 3 times a day.
If your knee pain responds well to heat, you can alternate it between a heat pack and an excellent pack.
Finally, try to keep your leg elevated and make sure you rest it as much as possible.
2. Use Medications
For some people, over-the-counter medicine can significantly reduce the amount of pain they feel; for others, they need more potent medication.
You need to look for anti-inflammatory drugs because they inhibit the production of inflammatory molecules.
3. Physical Therapy
Some people will find that having a physical therapist build a specific plan can help them reach their comfort levels. It can cost a bit of money, but the results can be life-changing.
Final Thoughts & Takeaways
Downhill hiking might seem impossible when you’ve got bad knees, but it’s perfectly possible when managed correctly.
The first thing you need to do is go to the doctor and get them checked out. You might be fighting knee pain that requires surgery or proper medical care before you leave for the mountains.
Once you get the all-clear from your doctor, you can start using the prevention methods to hike downhill discussed in this article.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Train Your Knees For Downhill Hiking?
Strengthening the muscles around your knee can really help. Ideally, you should use exercises such as walking lunges, reverse lunges, kettlebell deadlifts, and squats.
How Do You Treat a Hiker’s Knee?
The best way to treat Hiker’s knee is to go to a physical therapist or medical professional to see what they say. Every case is different, and it wouldn’t be right for me to give medical advice that might not work for your case.
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