Hiking - Knowledge

How to Use Knee Cap to Prevent Hiker's Knee

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Hiking is known to be one of the best forms of physical exercise and recreation, as not only does it give you a chance to build up your physique but it also provides everyone with the perfect opportunity to unplug from the hustle of the city life and reconnect with the wonders of nature. With changing terrains, thick covers of forestry and flora, and trailheads punctuated with sparkling water bodies and stunning imagery, trekking is hands-down one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise. But whether you happen to be an experienced trekker or just beginners, it is quite common and frequent to experience knee pain. So, knee caps are vital for trekkers and every trekker must be aware of how to use knee cap.

Many trekkers resort to working and building upon the quadriceps and overall weight, as they end up playing a major role in your patellar movement. Others often utilize knee caps or braces to help reduce the pain when and after hiking. Let’s get straight into complete details of the knee cap. 

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Why is Kneecap a Must for Trekkers

Knee pain happens as a result of excessive strain or pressure on your knees, from long hours of hiking or incorrect climbing positions. Pain in your kneecaps even tends to increase, primarily when you trek downhill. And one of the main reasons why the pain in your knees increases when descending downhill is because your body resists the natural pull of the earth’s gravity. The physics of this is similar to that of applying the brakes, and it is important for trekkers to understand that they need to let themselves a little loose to avoid abrupt and sharp pressures on their knees.

By doing so, it allows a certain extent of the gravitational pull to be a part of the descent. But if you frequently experience knee pain during such descents or still soreness after your trek, it is very likely that you need to attend to your form and the amount of weight you carry on your treks. The “hiker’s knee” or less commonly known as the patellofemoral pain syndrome, is the soreness of your kneecaps and is a painful sensation that tends to chronically intensify over a period of time, if not paid attention to. 

What can be done?

To remove knee pain or to protect your knee from any kind of damage, it is ideal to use a knee cap. A knee brace or knee cap has an open patella that ends up preventing joint compressions and provides external support for your knee. However, knowing how to use knee cap and purchasing the right kind is what will determine the kind of support your knee receives. Using the wrong type of knee brace for knee pain can end up worsening the pain and hence, it is critical to be aware of the kind of knee brace you use and on how you use knee cap. 

knee brace
Knee Cap for Hikers

What Hiking Downhill Does to Your Knee 

The reality behind the pain in your knee while walking or hiking can be traced back down to when you hike downhill. This is because when you descend, your knees become significantly more under pressure, as compared to when you walk on a flat plain or trek uphill. The compressive force between the tibia and the femur in your knee joint, increases by 7 to 8 times with each level step you take when you walk downhill!

You also increase the weight applied to your knees when you carry a heavy load or backpack when you trek. Hikers can be at a greater risk from experiencing prolonged knee pain, from factors like imbalanced and/or weak leg muscles, a prior unattended injury or ligament tear, incorrectly fit shoes and prolonged periods of walking. 

9 Tips To Improve Your Downhill Trek 

Your hips and kneecaps are the most vulnerable to injury when you trek because they bear most of your body weight, gravitational pull, and other added weights when you hike downhill. The compressive force is observed to be greater for women in comparison to men, as a result of their shorter femur bones. Here are some tips to remember on how to remove your knee pain while walking downhill:

  1. Maintain your normal body weight and try to keep your backpack weight as minimally as possible, for optimum knee health
  2. Hiking downhill with a locked knee is a major no-no. Walk at a steady and slow pace, and always keep your knees flexed. The faster you end up trekking, the longer your foot stride tend to be, and this results in intensifying the weight and impact on your knees.
  3. Instead of trekking straight down, it’s better to traverse in a zig-zag, s-shaped or a sideways, as it helps make your own switchbacks easier on wider trails. 
  4. Plan your hikes in a manner that your downhill descends are towards the end of the hike, instead of the beginning. By doing so, you would have reduced the overall weight you carry by having already consumed most of your food based luggage in the earlier parts of the trek
  5. Finish off most of your water before heading downhill
  6. Walk on softer soils or dirt, as opposed to concrete and undulating surfaces. The impact of your foot strike on harder surfaces would mean that your knees end up absorbing a sharp and large amount of the rebound pressure
  7. Your footwear also makes all the difference. Wearing well-cushioned shoes will help absorb the impact of your heel strike and your body weight, and relieve your knees of most of the pressure. If you don’t end up being careful about wearing the proper foot gear and having the right foot, you’d end up damaging your feet and your knees even more
  8. Keep your toenails trimmed and as short as possible. Also, add shoe gel if there’s too much space in your shoes, this will keep blisters at bay.
  9. For every hiker, it is important to keep in mind that their body adjusts at a rhythmic spring when you descend downhill.
hiking downhill- knee cap
Walk on softer soils for low impact on your knee

Ways To Protect and Strengthen Your Knee Muscles 

Here are some tips to keep on how to remove knee pain when walking.

When walking on rocky and undulating terrain

If the terrain is too unsteady and rocky, the hike downhill must be careful and slow. Fast paced descents on harder surfaces increase the compressive and sharp pressures on your knees, giving knee pain when walking and furthermore damaging them. Also, avoid leaping or taking huge strides as it intensifies the pressure on your heels.

Use a hiking/trekking pole

By carrying and using a hiking pole with you along the trek, you end up reducing the compressive forces on your knees by 25% as it facilitates in distributing your body weight and your additional weight that is carried on your arms and shoulders evenly, thereby decreasing the impact exerted on your knees.

How To Use Knee Cap/Brace

You might wonder about how to remove knee pain during or after-hike? Well, the answer to this is to use a knee cap or knee brace. A knee brace or knee cap has an open patella to eliminate joint compressions. Wearing a knee brace or a knee cap can help provide your knee additional support. However, it is essential to remember that using a knee cap or brace is only enough for external support to ease off any discomfort. They only offer a temporary solution and must be used in the right manner. 

Here are a few things you should keep in mind when you purchase and use a knee cap:

  • A knee cap is more supportive than ace bandages, as the latter offers only a minimal amount of support and can sometimes end up causing more damage.
  • Knowing how to use knee cap and buying the right one makes all the difference. There are several knee cap uses such as for compression, stability, tracking, swelling, etc., and that’s why it’s best to consult your physician on learning how to use the right knee cap. 
  • Wearing a velcro knee brace/cap can tend to provide more flexibility and ease while hiking.
  • When and how long you were your knee cap can depend on the kind of treatment you seek. Some are worn only during hiking or exercise and others are worn all the time. 
  • An important part of learning how to use knee cap includes how it is placed. Poor placement of the knee brace can end up increasing the damage inflicted on your knees. 
how to use knee cap
Steps to use a knee cap during a hike (source)

Exercises and Stretches For Your Legs 

One way to make sure that you can prevent knee pain when trekking is to strengthen your leg muscles. Any of the leg exercises will help you prepare for uphill hiking. You can condition your leg muscles by indulging in some weight training exercises that build up your hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps. Weight training helps reduce the amount of stress endured by your knees when you hike, especially when climbing uphill: 

  • Start out with some simple and then progress to some complex squats and lunges to help strengthen your quadriceps. This helps you make sure that your body weight (and maybe even the additional weight of the dumbbells you carry) is distributed evenly on your quadriceps and not on your heels or toes. Additionally, also remember to keep your knee cap behind your toes when you squatting and lunging
  • Biking is also an excellent way to condition your knees and strengthen your leg muscles. Even riding a stationary bike can help you build up your endurance in your hamstrings and quadriceps, and as result, make your knees stronger. 
  • Leg extensions add great emphasis on targeting the quadriceps. And you can perform this exercise with either your body weight only or with added resistance from an exercise band or even a leg extension machine. 
  • Hamstring stretches are extremely helpful in keeping your hamstrings flexible. By doing so, it will end up keep your knees healthy and furthermore avoid any knee pain. All you’d have to do is sit at the edge of a chair with your leg bent and your other leg extended, with your heel on the floor and your toes pointing up. 
  • Calf stretches are also important in preventing any excessive tightness that could result in symptoms of hiker’s knees.
  • Knee stabilization exercises along with heel slide and easy exercises such as wall squat can improve your knee.
  • It is necessary to stretch out your iliotibial band before and after your hike, as a majority of knee pain is derived from a tightness in this tendon.
exercises to avoid knee pain
Perform these exercises to prevent knee pain (source)

Summing Up

If you’re an avid hiker that happens to be suffering from knee pain regularly, there are many effective methods of intervention that can help you remove any obstacles that lie on your trailhead. It is important to always stretch your muscles before and post the trek, as it helps your legs to get back into shape after a lengthy period of contractions from the hike. Knowing how to use knee cap can end up relieving your knee muscles and nerves from high levels of stress and pressure, from trekking. Knee braces come in various types and forms, and are knee cap is used for specific purposes like swelling, ligament support, etc. Hence matching them to your condition, in addition to learning how to use knee caps, becomes a crucial part of using them for external support. 

While physical fitness and building upon your muscles do have a major impact on avoiding pain in your kneecaps during treks, it is equally vital to keep in mind that simple and useful tips like carrying a trekking pole, taking as minimal weight/luggage as you can with you on your trek and using a flexible knee cap/brace can have major influences in avoiding knee pain in the future.

Happy hiking!

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