Many hikers or individuals who spend a lot of time walking find themselves asking their doctors, “what is hikers knee?”
As you grow older, your knees do not remain as strong as they once were. When we feel pain in our knees, our instinct is to believe that it is not as bad as we think it is and chooses to go on with our daily lives. However, over time, the pain becomes so unbearable that getting a proper diagnosis is the only possible way to deal with it.
Hiker’s knee is a common condition among active hikers. This is usually when the individual feels pain around their knee cap within a few hours after hiking. Hiking uphill is hard for the knees because of the rocky terrain and steep inclines.
However, hiking downhill is responsible for the damage caused to the knees. When suffering from hiker’s knee, you can lose the ability and independence you get from doing activities you love. When you feel this kind of pain, it is important to tell your body to stop so that you can discover the cause of the pain and deal with it.
As hiking enthusiasts who’ve consulted their fair share of doctors regarding throbbing knee pains, we’re here with a guide that includes personal accounts of hikers and doctors to understand the logic behind hiker’s knee.
What is Hiker’s Knee?
The knees carry the most load when you take part in activities throughout the day. Now, think about how much pressure and weight is put on your knees when you go hiking on uneven and rocky trails. Hence, it is common for hikers to experience pain in their knees - also known as hiker’s knee.
Most hikers experience this pain behind or around their kneecaps which can also lead to stiffness in the knees. This pain gets worse when hiking downhill or going up the stairs, as in these situations, excessive pressure is put on the knees. According to research, the pressure put on the knee joint is eight times more amplified when you travel downhill. Moreover, the force applied on the knees is three times more when you are going up the stairs.
Some hikers have also reported feeling pain close to their inner knee area. This area is closest to the inner legs and can be because of a sprain or tear. This could be caused by an injury or because of overuse which causes inflammation.
It must be kept in mind that no joint in your body is more vulnerable to injury than the joints in your knee. Many people believe that because of the number of ligaments, muscles, and cartilages found in the knees, they would be the sturdiest part of the body and may last forever. However, all joints in your body are prone to wear and tear. The knee is most prone to chronic problems as it carries all the weight of your body. The amount of pressure we put on this joint when hiking or walking is unparalleled.
Hiker’s knee is commonly also known as runner’s knee. Medically, it is called Chondromalacia or Patellofemoral Stress Syndrome. The symptoms of this pain are that it amplifies when jumping, walking, or hiking. Hikers experience pain in their knees where the lower leg twists towards the inner side. This pain can also be caused by wearing old hiking boots or if the hamstrings and quadriceps become weak.
Why Hiking Downhill Increases Pain in the Knees
When dealing with hiker's knee, downhill hiking becomes the root of your problems. When you hike uphill, the muscles in your legs have to work hard to support your weight. However, when you are hiking downhill, gravity pulls the weight down so that you do not have to work as hard. This causes inflammation, irritation, and stress as the joints in your knee absorb the impact of the weight being dragged down the mountain.
When you hike too fast downhill, you increase your chances of injury. This is because the impact your body feels is increased. Hence, if you are someone who experiences hiker's knee, we would recommend being patient when traveling downhill. Be careful and take your time so that you do not further damage your joints and knees. Like a machine, the joints in your body are prone to wear and tear if you overwork them and do not get sufficient time to recover.
How to Treat Hiker’s Knee
If you are suffering from hiker’s knee, there are some options you can try to bring you relief. Some of the options listed below will require you to contact a doctor, while some are at-home remedies.
When you feel pain in your knee, you should start by icing it rather than instantly moving on to more invasive forms of treatment. This treatment applies even when the pain is mild.
Start by applying a cold pack to your knee, especially where it hurts. This will instantly lower the swelling and allow you some range of motion. Keep repeating this three times a day. Ice your knee for approximately 10 to 20 minutes a day.
If you find that your knee does not react negatively to mild activity and heat, you can try to alternate between cold and heated packs.
It is also important to keep your knee elevated during this time so that the swelling goes down. As a rule of thumb, elevate the knee above the heart level with the help of a few pillows. However, you don’t only have to elevate the knees. You need to elevate the entire leg.
Some cases of hiker’s knee will call for a special routine that involves stretching and conditioning the knee to regain some form of movement and flexibility. Physical therapy is used to alleviate the current pain you might be going through, as well as condition the knees so that you do not get hurt the next time you are walking down a flight of stairs or hiking.
It is recommended to consult a trained physical therapist and tell them about your symptoms so that they can create a plan based on your comfort levels and long-term goals.
If you find that your knee pain has not improved despite physical therapy and at-home treatments, your doctor may tell you to go for knee injections.
Steroid injections targeted at the knees may help bring sufficient relief by reducing inflammation and pain you are feeling in a specific area. Some hikers respond to a single injection, while others require several injections over a given period of time.
In severe cases of hiker’s knee, your doctor may recommend surgery. However, this is the last option that will be recommended to you if other types of options have proven to be useless.
The need for surgery will only be present in cases of serious damage caused by overuse of joints, an injury, or natural aging. Your doctor will choose to either replace and repair the torn ligaments or perform an arthroplasty- when the entire knee is replaced.
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