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Knee Pain after Hiking: A Beginner's Guide on Hiker's Knee

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Hiking through steep mountains or green forests seems exhilarating enough to get yourself engaged into more and more hikes. But as you go through the ups and downs, not literally but philosophically too, you will start to notice the unfateful knee injury, that you have to endure to fulfil your passion. While ignoring the pain and continuing in the trek seems righteous enough, let us warn you- it will leave a permanent scar in your life. Your knees consist the joints that keep your upper body and your legs connected and this very connection helps you cover the hikes with an adrenaline rush. Now just consider this connection broken by knee pain after hiking.

Can you go out for another hiking after that? Even if you do, will you still be able to enjoy your passion as much as you did before? With all the obstacles, it is your mental strength that keeps you going. But mental strength too needs a backup. If you are cringing with knee pain, your mind will not be able to be at pace. So let us delve deep into the common obstacle in the path of your passion and see how to remove knee pain. 

Table of Content

  • Why Knee Pain Occurs
  • Preparation Before Hiking
  • Top Ways to Prevent Knee Pain During the Hike
  • Measures to be Taken for Knee Pain After Hiking 
  • Do's and Dont's During Recovery Period  
  • Summing Up

Why Knee Pain Occurs?

No matter how physically fit you are, you often tend to be out of breath while traversing a series of steps on a staircase or have a tingling knee pain after walking. Climbing up the stairs puts stress on your knee joints around four times of your whole body weight; hence the breathlessness and tiredness. Walking long miles also overexerts your knee joints. Now just consider yourself carrying a trekking bag and covering high altitudes. The pressure on the knees is unimaginable now as you compare it to climbing stairs. But the point remains the same, over-exertion results in the knee injury. 

The same goes with hiking downhill. As you are experiencing a decrease in elevation, there is gravity pulling you down. The weight of your backpack seems hard to bear. You make the biggest mistake here in trying to speed up to reduce the pressure. As you have less control and high inertia, missteps occur and you have knee pain after hiking.    

Old pains can keep your knees in a tight place from time to time. You might have some experience of injury which was not treated accurately or you might have ignored the recovery process altogether. Moreover, there are a few injuries such as Bursitis, Tendonitis, Cartilage Tears, Arthritis etc that can lead to chronic injuries if you don’t know how to remove knee pain. Old flames can burn down your passion, so beware.

knee pain after hiking
Knee Pain on a hike (source)

Preparation Before Hiking

There are two things that can help you build up the strength while you are treading lands that are prone to gift you knee injuries. 

Proper Diet

Include tomatoes, cherries, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, green vegetables, spinach, fatty fish, nuts and olive oil in your daily diet chart. These items build up a resistance to inflammation. You don’t need to suffer inflammatory symptoms of knee pain after hiking if these items are in your diet.

Knee Strengthening Exercises

Exercises are undoubtedly the best way to keep your body flexible and strengthen the muscles and joints of your knees. You should indulge into regular biking, squatting and extending your hamstrings, calves and quadriceps muscles. IT Band stretching exercises also improve the flexibility and power of healing.  A few exercises are listed below :

  • Quads – Place a pillow under thigh > raise your toes and press down on the pillow with your legs > hold for 10 sec. > Repeat 10-15 times
  • Hamstring – Lie on your back with bent knees and toes pointed up > dig your hills and push back without moving your hips > hold for 10 sec > Repeat 10-15 times.
  • Leg Raises  - Bridge up with shoulders and one heel on the ground > Raise one leg straight with toes flexed >  Lower your leg without bending the knee keeping hips aligned > Repeat 10 times.

Top Ways to Prevent Knee Pain During the Hike

1. Right Shoes 

Your knees are dependent on your feet and what you wear on them. Do you know how to prevent knee pain in the first place? Use proper hiking boots that are comfortable. The boots should have good cushioning that will absorb the impact of the pressure that is radiating each step you take. This absorption of pressure will keep your knees safe from knee pain after hiking. 

2. Backpack 

Carry only the essential items you will need in your trek, thus the key is to pack your backpack light!. The more baggage you pack, the more pressure your knees have to bear. If you are wondering how to avoid knee pain, then choose an accurate backpack and pack and organize your essentials carefully. 

3. Move Slow 

As you are going downhill, various physical forces work on your body such as gravity, inertia etc. Moreover, the pressure of the backpack is also there. Hence to avoid tripping or missteps, move slowly and steadily to prevent knee pain after hiking. 

4. Hiking Poles 

Hiking poles on a 25-degree downhill ramp reduce the pressure on your knees by 12-25%. They provide support to your legs and regulate your weight. The Weight redistribution reduces the impact of every step you take. 

5. Knee Braces 

Using Knee-braces or elastic bandages provide support to your knees and stabilize them. You need to bind them accurately. Aggravation of the tissue along the outside of your knees, also known as the notorious IT Band Syndrome can be treated using these braces. Now you know how to prevent knee pain with these simple braces!

knee braces
Knee braces for safe hikes

6. Don't Hike if Your Pain is Unbearable

If you are in the middle of the trail, then ask your team leader to check on you. Convince them that you will no longer be able to hike further. Don't, for sake of anyone, try to hike anymore. Walk back slowly to your base. After that, avail a car or van, whichever is available. Rush to the physiotherapist or physician and properly describe your symptoms of knee pain during the hike. Follow up thoroughly. 

7. Correct Postures 

While going downhill, bend your knee slightly and apply pressure on hills rather than the knees. Don’t go for a hike with rapid elevation changes. Let your body adapt, give rest to your knees. Don’t push your legs when your knees are complaining of knee pain after hiking. Don’t jump or take large steps or run. It is not a running exercise; you are hiking to enjoy the surroundings. So keep it slow.  

8. Take the Right Step

One more tip of how to avoid knee pain is taking good "Steps". You should side-step downhill instead of rushing straight down. This will reduce the pressure on your knees by bending them less. Go down Drop-offs backwards so you can use your stronger climbing muscles to lower your body down without the jolt.

hiking downhill
Watch your steps (source)

Measures to be Taken for Knee Pain After Hiking 

These are the few important measures that will soothe your knee pain after hiking. 

Rest and Stretch

Your knees will almost give up after the intense exercise. All you need to do at first is to give some rest. The sufficient rest will ease up your muscles, flex your knees and make them supple. Tight and sore muscles often give ways to knee injuries such as muscle strain or torn ligaments. A few stretching will also help you gain back your flexibility so that you can continue in future hiking. 

Quick Healing Medicines

Take some non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) handy so that you can start your healing process while you are still on the hiking trail. 

Livingit Tip
Avoid taking medicines on an empty stomach. 

RICE – Don’t Overuse Your Knee

After taking all the necessary steps if you are still having trouble, then there is the most recommended measure to be taken –RICE i.e. Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation. Showing off a die-hard attitude with knee pain after running won’t help you in getting rid of knee injuries. Rather you need rest to avoid any complication that can permanently damage your already injured knees. Don’t take too much risk. After all, you don’t want to get chronic swelling, pain, strain or some complicated disease like arthritis. Ignoring the injury might also take you to the operation table which can stop your hiking session altogether for a prolonged time, even permanently. 

Applying ice or foam-rolling will prove as an effective method to relieve knee pain. You should do the Gluteus Medius Test to make sure foam-rolling will help you; otherwise, this might rather worsen your knee issues.

ice treatment
Knee pain treatment

Knee Strengthening Exercises

Yoga, swimming, cycling, walking and various other knee strengthening exercises are there to give your knee a proper blood flow.  Keeping your muscles steady is the most crucial thing in strengthening. Along with strengthening, you should also cross-train with varieties of elevation exercises to treat knee pain after hiking. These consist of stretching your knees to repair the tightness of your knees. Yoga and moderate swimming also help a lot. These will keep your cardiovascular health sound.

Take Medical Help

If all the above-mentioned processes fail to repair your knee and you feel a burning or throbbing sensation or feel like your knees will just give up, or you hear some awful crunching sound as you try to stretch your knees, you seriously need to check on with a doctor or physiotherapist. You can take ibuprofen-compositional medicines for temporary relief. Also, soak your knees in cold water to get temporary relief.

Is walking good for knee pain? The answer depends on how much you can move your muscles. Try to mobilize your knees with a 360-degree splint in case you are not being able to move your legs properly. Again, we advise not to push harder. Get a 180-degree support pad if you are having difficulty in walking. You need to support your ligament and tendons. So walking with difficulty will only cause more harm to your already injured knees.  

Do's and Dont's During Recovery Period  

The best advice for an injured patient is- "Don't rush during the recovery period!" Your knee will recover in its own sweet speed. So, stay patient and follow these:

Your first stage of recovery from knee pain after hiking is through the RICE –Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation as we mentioned earlier. Follow those processes thoroughly, without the hint of aggression. Being aggressive does not ensure aggressive recovery from knee injury. The first thing you need to shed after the injuries is your arrogance. You will get plenty of occasions to show off how determined or dedicated you are towards your passion. But first, you need to recover from the complications. Hence be determined in getting the proper treatment process.

Sit, step and walk properly while hiking – if you get a slightest of the notion that your knees are wobbling or you feel a tingling pain, stop thereafter. A little hint of pain will result in excruciating ache if not given rest or treated properly.

Do follow the diet and exercises, as prescribed by the doctor. Don’t ever skip the recovery process. In this period your body will get calcium, protein, vitamins to soothe your muscles and help the knee joints heal properly. 

Summing Up

Having knee pain after hiking is not a matter of shame, have the humility to accept that. Pain is a part of life, and so is your passion. Your body is like a big mechanical device with various machines working to keep it running smoothly. Your knee joints are just like those machines that help you hike and fulfil your passion. Don’t let it wear out by over-exerting. Try to understand the limitations of your strength. Diagnose pains and treat them properly. Don’t let that silly pain take a toll on your entire life. Get help and be patient with the recovery period. 

Happy hiking! 

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