It is time to go out for that hike, and the trail, bordered by wildflowers on both sides, birds chirping in song and sunshine … it is just so inviting. But you cannot go out because you have knee pain and you do not know how to reduce knee pain while walking.
Yet the benefits of hiking are so many, for all age groups. Walking enhances the release of the feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin … there, did you ever wonder why you feel happier energized and reinvigorated after a hike? Bless the feel good hormones. And then there is the fresh air, which has many benefits to your health. It enhances the alertness of the mind, boosts the power of memory, good for the immunity and it beats stress.
I could go on and on about the benefits of hiking, but they are so many and anyway, they may fade in comparison to the knee pain that you are experiencing. However, get your ultralight water filter bottle for hiking ready for this hike is happening, one way or another. You see, there are ways to manage knee pain when walking.
With the best outfits to wear to look cute when hiking, with all the free benefits for you, you really do not want to miss hitting the trails. And you will. But just, let’s get a few things out of the way before you pack your kids hiking backpacks and get the family on the move.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you may be familiar with knee pain. It affects skiers, backpackers, trekkers, hikers, campers and basically anyone else who is always going off the beaten path. Thankfully, there is treatment for this condition and it does not have to keep you indoors when you should be outdoors.
Hiking knee pain causes
There are many, with each person’s case being different from another. Tendonitis, inflammation, arthritis, cartilage tears and muscle tears are just some of the causes of knee pain. Some of these problems can be corrected by adopting the best exercises for hiking, some cannot. Some can also last a long time and some types of knee pains can last a long time.
However, a hiker is likely to suffer knee pain because of the following causes:
Wrong hiking shoes
It is very important that you get your hiking shoes just right and there are no two ways about this. Mostly, it is recommended that you order a half size or one size bigger because when walking in summer, the feet do expand. And then you may also want to wear some heavy socks when hiking in cold weather. Basic thing is – do not buy them snug fitting.
If you do not wear the right hiking boots, that is going to affect your gait and in return, that is also going to hurt your knee. You should also choose boots with good arch support, nice and comfortable cushioning and thick rubber soles so that they can absorb the shock from rocks and tree stumps.
When you buy a new pair of trail boots, it is important to break them before wearing them for the long trek. To break a pair of boots is to wear them, to get your feet and the shoes accustomed to each other before the actual hiking day.
IT Band – Iliotibial Band
As the name suggests, this is a band of tissue that runs from the pelvic area to the knee, on the outside part (the side of your thigh). It is thick, it is strong and it does not stretch. Being non-stretching makes it able to support you as you walk, enhancing stability and all.
However, we all know how the trails are, some rough spots, some dips, raises, rocks and many more obstacles that force you to stretch over and above the limit. This causes the band to be “stretched” over the knee, thus rubbing against your bone and leaving you in pain.
Remember, the time you are hiking over these different stretches of the trail, you have your hiking gear with you, your foam sleeping pad and all, and this adds onto the strain on the knees.
In actual sense though, this band of tissue cannot stretch but the muscles underneath it, that is, the glutes, the quads and even the calves can be forced to stretch as a result of this strain.
This would cause some serious repercussions on the knee, and pain is always the indication that something is not right. The band might also become inflamed due to too much strain.
Weak glute muscles
Glute muscles are found in the buttocks. When you have weak glutes, your quad muscles are going to suffer as they do all the work when you are walking while the glutes do practically nothing.
Usually, weak glutes means you have tight hip flexors from sitting down for too long. It also means the hamstrings are weak.
This happens because the hip flexors shorten especially from sitting a lot and as a result, they become spasmodically tight. You can find out how to exercise your glute muscles on https://homefitnessarena.com.
Arthritis is without doubt one of the biggest causes of knee pain when hiking. The hyaline cartilage gets worn out over the knee area and as a result, you start experiencing pain issues in the knees.
This is how arthritis starts an when you gain weight, or when you hike carrying a heavy hiking backpack, you are likely to experience pain on your arthritic knee.
There are therapies to help heal an arthritic knee so that you can hike, but it is far much better to try and prevent yourself from arthritis. Do not do over-packed backpacks and keep watching your weight.
Knee cartilage injury
One of the most common injuries to the knee cartilage is the meniscus tear and it can really put you off the trail for some time.
The meniscus is a piece of tissue that is strategically located so that it can cushion the knee joint ensuring that the knee bones do not rub against each other.
If you overwork a knee with a cartilage injury, a piece of the meniscus may tear up and get stuck in the knee joint locking it up in the process. The resultant pain is excruciatingly out of this world.
Meniscus tear may not be likely to occur to a casual hiker. However, anytime that you jump over ditches, brooks and other obstacles with your back laden with a backpack, that can pause a risk. It is better to negotiate your way around obstacles.
Knee pain when going downhill
Knee pain when hiking can be worse going downhill, than when going uphill or on a level path. However, this does not mean that you should only worry about going downhill.
Any pain is nasty and you should deal with it accordingly. One of the most common indications of a bad knee is chondromalacia patella, which is also referred to as runner’s knee. It is most likely to occur in sportspeople, hence the name runner’s knee, but at the same time, it can occur to anyone who loves hiking.
When going downhill, you may experience some sharp pain under the kneecap. This, again, is mostly caused by the iliotial Band causing friction on the knee. Although chondromalacia patella also occurs when going uphill, it is more likely to occur when you are going downhill.
The best solution is to wear knee brace for hiking downhill but it is also best to exercises your knees, stretch the muscles and do some warm up exercises before going hiking.
These are just a few causes of hiking knee pain. There are many more like tendonitis, stretched ligaments and overuse of the knees.
How to reduce knee pain while walking
So having seen the main causes of hiking knee pain, how do you reduce this pain such that a bad knee does not keep you indoors? Well, there are many things you can do, but here, we will look at just a few of them.
Knee brace for hiking
A knee brace is just that – a brace that you wear on the knee region. This brace is designed to support the weaker part of the knee, usually slightly below or above the knee. Usually you should let a doctor decide the best knee brace for you, but if you are wearing it as a preventive measure for your knee, then you can just order one from the array of knee braces from amazon.com.
If you are a hiker, then you know that the knee takes quite a beating when you hike up or down the hill. However, many people forget to give their knees some loving care in the evening.
You should see me massaging my feet, my calves with ooh-aah sounds. However, when it gets to the knees, I am like, well, this is just a blob of two little well-rounded bones sitting on top of one another.
Try some knee treatment therapy after a hard day, simple stuff like placing an ice pack atop the knee. This works nicely if there is some inflammation in the IT band. It also alleviates pain in the ligaments and quad muscles.
Do some glute exercises. These will help you a lot. Most of the time, we are just sitting down, and our butt muscles become numb. They do not help much when we are walking. Stretches, exercises and general warm up exercises should be good.
Heat therapy is good for the knees. Actually, I will rephrase that, heat therapy is good for everything except burns and scalds. When you feel some strain on the knee, relax, heat some water, dip a clean towel in the water, then squeeze out the water and place the hot towel on your knee. Let it stay for some time.
If you developed some pain under or in the kneecap, you need to see the doctor before you can self-diagnose. If the doctor prescribes a knee brace, he/she will also advice you on how far to hike with the brace.
In my article on why you need to use hiking poles, you can see all the benefits that this small hiking gear packs. This is very important, as it will help support you on the rough terrains, when going downhill and when going uphill. Choose an adjustable hiking pole so that you can shorten it when climbing and make it longer when going downhill.
Today, we even have hiking poles that have a camera mount, so that you can shit pictures easily as you hike. You will also find the hiking pole serves many more uses. For example, you can use it to ward off copperheads when hiking in Texas. Made of aluminum or other lightweight materials, a pair of hiking poles will just add a little extra weight on your backpack. Do not go hiking without a pair.
Pack a light backpack
Finally, make your hike as comfortable as possible. You do this by wearing the right shoes, as we discussed earlier. But you also need to pay some attention to the weight on your back.
Remember, your legs will have to bear all the strain on your back, and that could pose a serious challenge to your knees. If you develop some knee issues when you are out there on a hike or a trek, take some time off and rest your knee. Do some therapy on it, and if it does not get better, go back home. Cut your hike short.
In your backpack, you should always pack the very necessary items. For example, food, a knee braces from amazon.com for keeping your favorite drink all the time is good. If you do not need something, just leave it behind and save your legs the strain.
If you know your knees have a problem, just take it easy on them. Do the easy trails only until you have recovered. I hope this information has shown you how to reduce knee pain while walking. Remember to take it easy if you have to hike with a bad knee. There is no hurry, the trails are not going anywhere.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.