Hiking With Knee Pain — How To Deal With It
Hiking With Knee Pain — How To Solve It
So you’ve just gotta go for a trek, hike, or walk no matter the cost. It’s in your blood. And though you know all the great physical and mental benefits of using hiking for exercise, there’s a downside, too: that nagging pain in your knees every time you hike. Maybe it’s the red-hot burning sensation around the kneecap. Or perhaps it’s the unpleasant feeling of tissue being smashed between joints. So how exactly do we solve the problem of hiking with knee pain?
Whether you’ve got bad knees or just the occasional stress-induced knee pain, we’ve got a guide for you.
The following guide will explore how to get through a hike with bad knees, deal with the knee pain, and what you can do to alleviate the issue (or possibly prevent it!). Let’s get started.
NOTE: This article should NOT be viewed as medical advice — it's meant to be used as a guide to help fellow hikers. Always speak to a doctor if you are suffering from or worried about suffering from physical injuries.
Does Hiking Cause Knee Pain?
Before we jump right into aiding and preventing knee pain from hiking, let’s first understand the cause and where it originates. Hikers, runners, and cyclists often endure long and rigorous impact on their joints. Knee pain is a very common side-effect of these activities.
The most common type of pain is often around or behind the kneecaps, usually diagnosed as Chondromalacia, Patellofemoral Stress Syndrome—or “runner’s knee”. Symptoms often worsen with added additional pressure from walking up or downstairs, hills, whilst running, or any other activity that calls for pressure on the knee joints.
While it’s easy to accuse hiking as the culprit, there are some other factors at play. It’s better to know if you have an existing knee problem (common in older hikers and runners), or if this is a new problem as a result of the activity.
When Does The Pain Occur?
If the pain rears its ugly head during a hike, it’s likely Chondromalacia. This is the result of over-pronation where the lower leg twists inward. This happens not only with hiking but with walking or running, too. It can be the result of weak muscles in the quads and hamstrings, or by overuse and worn-out boots. For hikers both old and young, this pain frequently occurs from prolonged physical stress and overuse of the muscles.
If the pain is slightly present before a hike, it’s likely another issue that’s being agitated by the activity.
Can I Hike With Knee Pain?
Hiking with knee pain is no fun. However, for a lot of us, it’s a minor, albeit unpleasant, obstacle we don’t mind dealing with.
There are several variables involved in knee pain and hiking. If you’re dealing with serious knee pain—the grueling type—it’s better to stop, take it slow, and call it a day until the knee pain can be remedied.
Hiking with knee pain is doable, though not recommended if the pain is severe. For example: if it's a slight bother, take proper care and consideration to not agitate the pain.
On the other hand, if you're sweating bullets and biting down on a woodblock due to the pain, it's best to figure out what's going on before you consider hitting the trails.
Hiking with severely injured knees can cause serious long-term damage. Always be safe and consider the best option before jumping onto the trail.
Can you hike with knee pain? Yes, but it's not recommended if the pain is severe. The real question here is should you go for a hike with knee pain? If you're suffering from knee pain when hiking, it's best to take some preventative measures to reduce the risk of injury.
How To Help Prevent Knee Pain When Hiking
If you—or, preferably, your doctor—diagnose the knee pain and its cause, we can narrow down some ways to prevent it from occurring in future outdoor expeditions. Though these won't always prevent knee pain from occurring, they are definitely worth using to prevent severe injury or prolonged stress on your joints. After all, nothing is worse than having to get knee surgery when preventative measures could have been taken.
Use Hiking Poles/Sticks
Hiking poles are lightweight "sticks" that help hikers improve balance and stability. Unbeknownst to new hikers, they're also great for taking the pressure and impact off of your joints.
Have you had a leg injury that required crutches to reduce muscular stress? Trekking Poles and Hiking Sticks are a similar concept. They help utilize more of your upper-body and use leverage to relieve stress on the legs and back during a hike.
Using hiking poles is a good choice to help aid knee pain and even help with back pain from hiking, too.
Compression socks improve blood flow by reducing the diameter of distended veins. Using compression also has several other benefits like relieving muscle ache & fatigue, and reducing swelling in your legs and feet.
Using compression socks for hiking improves the stability of your muscles and joints during a hike.
There are several hiking-specific compression socks out there, but if you’re bogged down by choices, pick the ones that fit you best.
Your compression socks shouldn’t be too loose, but shouldn’t be tight to the point of reduced circulation, either.
Wear Proper Fitting Hiking Boots
This should go without saying, yet it's something many of us always tend to overlook. Ill-fitting footwear can lead to serious problems down the road, including muscle strain, foot blisters, and more.
Oversized boots and shoes cause sliding on the foot, which adds additional stress to your knees and hips when going uphill.
Likewise, footwear that is too small will cause cramping in your feet and poor circulation. Your footwear should be snug enough to not cause feet sliding, but loose enough to wiggle your toes and not feel like your feet are being strangled.
When looking for the best hiking boot, consider the articulation, grip, and fit of the boot. Don't opt for a bad boot just because they're budget-friendly! Your physical health is far more important.
Another good measure for preserving your knees is to know when to replace hiking boots. Wearing worn-out and damaged boots (especially with worn-out soles) can lead to absorbing more shock in the muscles we need for knee strength.
Knee Braces For Hiking
If you're a casual hiker, knee sleeves work great for compression and support of your knee joints. They're flexible, soft, and slip right on.
If you hike very frequently, a sturdier and more rigid knee brace is a great consideration for extra support.
Even if you don't suffer from knee pain (why are you reading this article?!), knee support is always a great consideration to help prevent any future knee pain from hiking.
Just like our sunscreen advice in a previous post, this one is obvious yet nearly always overlooked.
Stretching your legs and muscles properly before any physical activity will work wonders for your performance.
Not stretching properly before physical activity is going to cause tension to build up and can lead to muscle cramps. Make sure to always set aside time before and after a hike for a proper stretching regiment.
How To Aid the Knee Pain When Hiking
Dealing with knee pain after a hike is just as important as dealing with it before. While rest and stretching is the most obvious advice, don't forget about icepacks and proper nutrition. Eating the right foods after an exercise is proven to speed up recovery and even fortify your muscles for future use. Don't neglect your nutrition!