Hiking knee pain is a common condition, and these days there have been increasing complaints about it from hikers. The increasing concern has been linked to the popularity of the activity, with new people picking it up daily. Well, you should know that hiking is not exactly an ideal activity for the knee, especially if your major routes are inclined and steep terrains. The knee is the weight-bearing joint and has the duty of supporting your upper body and lower back.
Many experts have highlighted how hiking affects the knee and even causes a painful sensation for hikers. The Havard Medical School reveals that walking at an incline or steep surface puts the knee under two to three times the normal pressure and load it usually bears. Since hiking thrives on long-distance walking through different terrains and elevations, you will likely feel your knee buckle under pressure. And it is not solely because you are walking tons of long distances. Not really. The problem comes mostly from poor hiking practices, poor footwear, uneven weight distribution, and lack of knee-strengthening exercises.
You will find out in this piece what causes knee pains when hiking and how to prevent them.
The Different Kinds of Hiking Knee Pains
Knee pains during or after hiking do not necessarily mean you have developed an injury. Sometimes how you sit, stand or fold your knee on the trail can send a pain signal to your brain. Fortunately, readjusting your seating position will help reduce the sensation most times.
Different issues can cause knee pain as an ailment. An overloaded or poorly designed backpack will add pressure to your knees and lower back and increase your chance of temporary to more significant injury.
Also, wearing and using poorly fitting shoes has its consequences as it affects how you walk. While a good shoe will help successfully distribute pressure and tension from your knees to your lower legs, a poor one puts the knee joints under immense pressure.
Your choice of hiking pole also plays a huge role in how your knees are affected. Some hiking poles are not good enough and fail to move some of your upper body weight to your hand. Since they are not good walking aid, they leave your knee to bear all the pressure, increasing the risk of pain in the area during and after hiking.
Now that we have considered some common causes of hiking knee pains, here are the different kinds of pains you may deal with on the trail.
Persistent Ache Under the Kneecap
It is common to feel consistent pain under your kneecap during hiking. This sensation is generally caused by improper body positioning when walking and could also mean that your cartilage may be worn down. This kind of pain is usually felt when you hike downhill. Downhill terrains tend to irritate the knee & its cartilage.
However, you can help your knee feel better by walking in small ZigZags instead of just moving straight down. You should also avoid locking your knees to prevent irritation.
Another way to enjoy better relief under your kneecap is by getting special insoles designed to offer good support and move the pressure away from the joint. Using a cold pack on your knee can also help with the pain. If the pain persists, you can use Ibuprofen for better help.
Most doctors may offer to strengthen muscle tips around the knee to help your hiking ambition.
Pain Above or Below The Knee
Sometimes you may not exactly feel the pain under the knee but somewhat above or below the knee. In most cases, the sensation may be sharp and sudden and is mainly linked to tendon inflammation caused by long-distance coverage. Also, the pain could be caused by a sudden significant increase in hiking hours. A sudden increase in hiking hours will likely send your body into shock and increase the pressure in your knees.
To solve this knee pain, you must handle it the moment you notice it. You can start your first stage of treatment by using ice on the area to kill off the pain. You can use anti-inflammatory drugs and get your group to help you with some of the weight. If there is no improvement after a few days, then ensure you stop every hiking activity and give yourself time to recover. See a doctor if there is no improvement, days after leaving the trial is recommended.
Pain Allover the Entire Knee
Sometimes, you may feel severe pain all over your knee, especially if you had fallen or injured it on the trail. Also, the pain could be due to a prior injury you had already sustained before even starting your hike. Whichever is the case, full-blown knee pain is not a good sign. Falling heavily on your knee can twist or possibly hyperextend it and tear your Anterior Cruciate Ligament. This is a severe injury; a common symptom is if your knee buckles anytime you stand.
If you have a possible ACL complication, it is best to leave the trail and do all you can to remove the pain from the affected part. You should immediately visit a doctor for proper treatment.
Why Do You Feel Pain on Your Knees on Hills Compared to Even Terrains?
Hiking on the hills puts different pressure and tension on your knees and entire lower region compared to walking on even terrains. On face observation, it is easy to notice that you tend to bend your knees much more when walking upward or down a steep elevation. This move forces your muscles to work much more and increases the tension around them.
Clearly, Downhill hiking is much easier than Uphill hiking. You feel it when you come down from a steep, which is almost like a free ride. However, downhill hiking also requires good form and excellent control. It will be a mistake to let the momentum control how you walk on a downhill slope, as the consequences may be very significant.
When hiking down a slope, your body weight tends to drop on your lower back and knee with more pressure than an even surface. This force generally encourages poor posture and increases the risk of you getting your knee and even lower back injured over time. It is also easy to lock your knees when the momentum of downhill hiking controls your stride. Therefore you have to try to fight the urge to do such as it increases injury risk.
To prevent downhill injury, you have to implement some safety precautions. Try as much as possible to keep your knee slightly bent while maintaining a controllable stride. It would help to maintain a straight posture to distribute the weight evenly. A hiking pole is a good support to have for your walk. A good pole will help you maintain a relatively good form and significantly reduce the pressure of compressive force on your joints.
Downhill hiking training is something you may want to try to deal with the pain as well. It is often recommended that you practice up to 5 minutes of downhill running or jogging daily to strengthen and develop muscles around your knee. A well-developed and adaptable muscle for downhill walking reduces the risk of injury.
Uphill elevations are also major culprits that force your knees to work overtime. Uphill hiking will generally put a lot of pressure on your lower back than it would on your knee, but that does not mean that the risk does not exist. Actually, it does. Uphill elevations increase the force of gravity against you, and with the likelier option of having a backpack pulling you down, there is a high chance of you landing too hard on your knees. Many hikers have often commented about their vulnerability of experiencing knee pains when walking in uphill elevations compared to other terrains.
The pressure of trying to beat gravity and maintain a significant stride often puts hikers at higher risk of misstepping, increasing pressure on their entire knee.
Maintaining a good posture and trying as much to exhibit more control in your steps is the way to reduce the propensity of missteps. Try as much as possible to maintain a forward-leaning posture that is a little curved and almost upright. Do not bend too much, as that will only put pressure on your knees and increase your risk of losing balance. A hiking pole can be very helpful for uphill elevation, so use them to your advantage.
Knee pains in hiking are common, and most are often temporary. It is not unusual for you to feel knee discomfort for more than 24 hours after hiking. However, it may be best to book an appointment with a doctor if your discomfort has increased or lasted a few days, even after stopping the hike. In this piece, you have seen most of the things you need to know about hiking and how you can better handle your condition. As an accompanying point, you should get good footwears that offer good knee and cushion support and are adaptable to all terrains.