Is hiking good for knees? This is a common question asked of avid hikers who spend long hours on the trail and are worried about the effects of hiking on their bodies.
Hiking is a wonderful activity that is enjoyed by individuals of all ages. However, many people wonder how hiking affects the knees.
While hiking is definitely a well-loved activity that is practiced all year round, it is not good for the knees. In fact, hiker's knee is a well-known condition that many hikers suffer from. This is especially true for older hikers who are dealing with aging joints.
Having the correct form while hiking is essential to prevent injury. Moreover, there are several things one must pay attention to, like hiking light and making use of trekking poles.
Here is why hiking is not good for the knees. We have put together reasons why knee pain intensifies when you hike and what conditions are caused as a result of it.
Is Hiking Good for Knees
Now that we know that hiking is not good for the knees, let’s find out why.
When hiking, you spend loads of time on uneven and rocky trails. This increases the stress put on your knees which is why many hikers suffer from knee pain by the end of their hike.
Most people experience pain behind or around their kneecaps. Hiking can also cause stiffness in the knees. When hiking downhill, this pain will intensify because lots of pressure is put on the knees during this time. Studies prove that when hiking downhill, eight times the body weight is put on the knee joint, making the knees weak. Moreover, as compared to walking uphill, the force is two to three times more on your knees.
Hikers have also reported feeling pain in their inner knee area, which is most likely due to a sprain or tear. This could be because of overuse, inflammation, or injury.
Different Kinds of Knee Pain- What it Means
1. Constant Pain under the Kneecap
If you feel persistent pain underneath the kneecap, the cartilage may be damaged. When you hike downhill, pressure falls on the knee, irritating the cartilage. To prevent this, you can try hiking in small zigzags. This will ensure that less pressure falls in your joints as compared to hiking straight downhill.
Moreover, when you walk downhill, it is recommended that you do not lock your knees. If you are looking for some pain relief, you can get shoe insoles or try to stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee.
However, we would still recommend asking your doctor what the best approach for you would be. If you find yourself in pain mid-hike, take some ibuprofen or apply some snow on your knee.
2. Sharp Pain Above or Below the Knee
If you feel a shooting pain in the area surrounding the knees while you are hiking, this could be tendinitis. Tendinitis is when a tendon is overused and becomes inflamed as a result. Usually, it is caused if you suddenly start hiking longer distances. Weak quadriceps and tight hamstrings do not help either.
The second you feel pain, you must ice your knee and rest a lot. If you are still in pain a couple of days later, pay your doctor a quick visit. If you experience pain while you are hiking, it is best to take an anti-inflammatory medicine. Moreover, put your knee in cold water during your breaks and hike light. Do not carry much weight as this can also increase pressure on your knees.
3. Sharp Pain on the Knee After an Injury
Hiking can be fun and games till you have a bad fall and feel pain around the knee as an after-effect. If this happens, there are high chances that you may have torn the ACL- anterior cruciate ligament. This is what stabilizes the knee, making it a crucial part of the body. Usually, this is a common injury amongst those who play tennis and basketball. However, keep in mind that a severe fall could tear the ACL, especially if you twist your knee.
One sign to look out for is if you find your knee buckling as soon as you start to stand straight. If this happens, use your trekking poles as support, keep the hurt knee bent, and put your weight on your toes. Wrapping the knee is a bad idea as this would only cause the swelling to double.
Why the Knees Hurt More When Hiking on Hills
If you feel pain in your knees, you should not always assume that it is because of an injury. Maybe you sat weirdly and applied pressure on your knees by mistake? The possibilities are countless.
However, if you are already feeling some discomfort, hiking will increase the amount of pressure put on your joints and leave you in agony. When you hike up or downhill, the knees stay bent, using more muscles and causing more tension in them in the long-run.
1. Hiking Downhill
Hiking downhill is much easier than hiking uphill. However, it is important to have the correct form- when you hike downhill, the body is likely to hit the ground harder which means that bad form could cause an injury.
When hiking downhill, it is important that you do not lean back or lock your knees. Instead, keep them slightly bent, stand straight, and lean forwards whenever you can. Trekking poles should be used as crunches to ensure that you practice good form and do not put too much weight on your joints.
2. Hiking Uphill
Even though hiking uphill does not put too much pressure on the joints, it is still not easy. Since your body moves against gravity and most hikers carry heavy weights while hiking uphill, proper form is absolutely essential. When you ascend, you might naturally lean towards the ground. However, it is important to ensure that you do not hinge from your hip.
If you lean too far back or forwards, you could lose your balance and have a terrible fall. The correct form is to use the ankles to lean slightly forwards while engaging the right muscles in the knees. If you feel like your muscles are weak, it is best not to strain them.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks