How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide

Whether it’s a short nature walk or an epic thru-hike, hiking is a great way to get outside, explore new places, and push yourself physically and mentally. But if you’ve ever experienced knee pain, you know that this activity can also take a toll on your body.

In this guide, we will discuss how to prevent hiking knee pain so that you can enjoy your hikes without worrying about injuring yourself.

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Why do I feel knee pain after hiking?

Hiker’s knee, or pain in the knees from hiking, is a frequent issue even for avid hikers. It can be caused by a few things.

First, hiking is a very active sport that can put a lot of strain on the knees. This strain can lead to inflammation, which in turn exacerbates any existing injuries or weaknesses in the knee joints.

Additionally, over-exertion from hiking can cause an accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles surrounding the knees and lower legs. This lactic acid creates a burning sensation that might make you feel as though your knees are on fire, making it difficult for you to complete your hike.

With a little bit of preparation and care, you’ll be able to enjoy pain-free hikes for years to come!

Causes of hiking knee pain

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)

How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide
Runners knee animation
By www.scientificanimations.com

A common cause of knee pain in hikers is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), also known as “runner’s knee.”

This condition occurs when the cartilage under the kneecap becomes irritated and inflamed, causing pain around the kneecap and in the front of the knee.

Hiking uphill or upstairs can also put additional strain on the knee cap and exacerbate symptoms of PFPS.

Tendinosis

Tendinosis is another common cause of knee pain in hikers and is the result of overuse or repetitive stress on the tendons around the knee.

This condition often affects the patellar tendon, which connects the knee cap to the shin bone. When this tendon becomes irritated and inflamed, it can cause shooting pain in the front of the knee above or below the kneecap.

Hiking uphill as well as an improper form while hiking, can put additional strain on the patellar tendon and lead to tendinosis.

To prevent tendinosis, use good form when hiking and avoid putting all of your body weight on your knees.

Strengthening weak quadriceps and the muscles around the hips can also help to take some of the pressure off of the patellar tendon and prevent sore knees.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the knees.

This condition occurs when the surrounding cartilage that protects the ends of the bones wears down, causing the bones to rub against each other. This can lead to inflammation, chronic pain, and stiffness in the joints.

Hiking can aggravate the symptoms of osteoarthritis, as repetitive motion can put additional stress on the joints.

Bursitis

How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide
Normal bursa (L) , and inflamed bursa (R)by www.scientificanimations.com

Bursitis is another condition that can cause pain and inflammation in the knees. This condition occurs when the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles become irritated and inflamed.

Bursitis often affects the bursa in the knee, which is located between the knee cap and the thighbone. When this bursa becomes irritated, you’ll feel pain, warmth, and tenderness in the front of the knee.

Synovial plica syndrome

Synovial plica syndrome is a condition that can cause knee pain, stiffness, and swelling. This condition occurs when the folds of tissue that surround and protect the knee joint become irritated and inflamed.

The synovial plica is located in the space between the kneecap and the thighbone. When these tissues become irritated, they can cause an achy pain in the front of the knee.

Meniscus tear

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury, in which you may feel or hear a popping sensation. Followed by knee pain, swelling, and stiffness.

The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between the thigh bone and the shin bone.

This tear occurs when this cartilage is torn often during activities that involve twisting or turning the knee, such as walking downhill.

Iliotibial band syndrome

How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide
By Healthimage

Iliotibial band syndrome is a condition that can cause knee pain, swelling, and stiffness.

This condition occurs when the iliotibial band, a strip of tissue that runs from the hip to the knee, becomes irritated and inflamed.

If you have IT band syndrome, it’s important to take care of your joints and avoid activities that will aggravate your condition.

ACL damage

How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide

The ACL is the main stabilizing ligament in the knee joint. It helps to keep the knee stable and prevents it from hyper-extending.

ACL damage can occur when the ligament is stretched or torn. You’ll feel pain and discomfort and have a loss of range of motion.

This type of injury is often caused by activities that involve sudden changes in direction, such as tennis and basketball. And sometimes a fall while hiking that hyperextends your knee may damage your ACL.

How do I stop my knees from hurting when hiking?

There are a few things you can do to protect your knees when hiking downhill:

1. Add stretching to your hiking routine

stretching before a hike- to protect your knees. woman stretching

Adding some stretches to your hiking routine will prepare your muscles and joints for the physical activity ahead by increasing blood flow and improving your range of motion.

This can help prevent injury and promote joint health. And remember to remain hydrated and avoid over-exerting yourself on a long hike.

For the knees specifically, focusing on stretching the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles can help reduce strain and prevent knee pain or serious injury.

If you need some stretching ideas have a look at 10 Easy Rope Stretches That Will Make You More Flexible or How To Do Calf Stretches: Avoid Injury And Improve Flexibility

2. Protect your knees, use proper form

This means keeping your head up, shoulders back, and abs engaged. Use hiking poles to save your knees when hiking downhill. They provide knee support and stability, helping you to maintain good form.

By using trekking poles, you can distribute your body weight more evenly, which takes some of the strain off of your knees. Additionally, hiking poles can help you to keep your balance, preventing you from slipping or falling.

If you want to ease the burden on your joints, try zigzagging instead of walking straight down when going downhill. Also, make sure not to lock your knees while downhill hiking.

3. Take short, frequent breaks

How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide
Taking a lunch break

To help reduce the risk of knee pain, it’s important to take regular breaks while hiking. Short, frequent breaks will give your sore knees a chance to recover from the impact of downhill hiking and prevent them from getting too tired.

In addition, taking breaks will help you stay hydrated and keep your energy levels up.

If you start to experience pain in your knees, take a break immediately and rest for a few minutes.

4. Strength training

Strength training is also an important part of preparing for a hike, especially when it comes to preventing knee injuries.

The knees are one of the most vulnerable parts of the body when hiking, as they constantly bear the weight of the body and are vulnerable to twisting and turning.

By building up the muscles around the knee, hikers can help to stabilize the joint and reduce the risk of injury.

Additionally, strength training can help improve balance and coordination, both of which are essential for avoiding falls on uneven terrain. 

5. Ice your knees

If you’re experiencing pain in your knees while hiking, take breaks often and ice the area when you’re finished for the day. This will help to reduce inflammation and swelling.

6. Consider Knee Braces

The repetitive motion of walking can put strain on your joints and hiking uphill and down can add even more pressure. Wearing a knee brace can help to relieve some of this stress and protect you from further knee damage.

A knee brace can provide added support for the joint and help to reduce pain. They can also help to prevent further injury by stabilizing the knee and limiting its range of motion.

If you are an avid hiker or simply enjoy spending time in nature, investing in a good knee brace can help you to stay healthy and pain-free.  

In addition, knee braces can be used to treat existing injuries by providing compression and joint stability. 

7. Wear proper footwear

Poorly fitting or unsuitable hiking shoes can lead to knee pain, as well as other problems such as blisters or plantar fasciitis. Wearing proper footwear while hiking will help you avoid these issues and enjoy your hike pain-free.

Make sure to choose hiking boots that fit well, provide good ankle support, and have a comfortable amount of cushioning.

And remember, always break in new hiking boots to prevent knee pain before hitting the trails!

8. Get plenty of Omega-3’s

If you are experiencing knee pain while hiking you can take a daily supplement of Omega-3 fatty acids that may help to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This can be especially beneficial for people who suffer from conditions like arthritis or gout.

Flaxseeds, walnuts, egg yolks, chia seeds and olive oil are all excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

In addition, omega 3’s can help to promote joint health by lubricating the joints and reducing the risk of cartilage damage.

How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide
Hiking in the Rocky Mountains

9. Try CBD oil

CBD oil is a natural anti-inflammatory that can help to reduce joint pain and swelling. CBD is available in topical form, as well as in tinctures and capsules.

If you’re interested in trying CBD for hiking knee pain, talk to your doctor first to see if it’s right for you.

10. See a doctor

If the pain in your knees is severe or persists, be sure to see a doctor or physical therapist.

Dr holding patients leg to inspect knee

Treating knee pain after hiking

If you are experiencing minor knee pain after hiking, there are a few things you can do to treat it:

1. Rest

It is crucial to rest your knees in order to relieve the strain from repetitive motions and give them a chance to heal so that further damage does not occur.

2. Ice

If you’re looking for some relief, try putting an ice pack on your knee. You can use a bag of frozen peas, an ice pack wrapped in a towel or a knee wrap to reduce the swelling and pain. Just make sure you don’t leave it on for more than 20 minutes at a time!

Vive Knee Ice Pack Wrap - Cold/Hot Gel Compression Brace - Heat Support Strap for Arthritis Pain, Tendonitis, ACL, Athletic Injury, Osteoarthritis, Women, Men, Running, Meniscus and Patella Surgery

With adjustable compression that provides cold therapy, this knee wrap targets the front and back of your knee to bring you maximum relief.

3. Compression

Fluid build-up in damaged tissues can be reduced by wearing a compression bandage. It will also help to keep the knee aligned and stable. Choose a lightweight, breathable knee sleeve or bandage for the best results. The bandage should fit snugly but not so tight that it cuts off blood circulation.

Premium Elastic Bandage Wraps (4" 2Pack & 3" 2Pack) - Made of USA Grown Organic Cotton - Hook & Loop Fasteners at Both Ends - Roll for Sprains & Injuries

These inexpensive elastic bandages feature two easy press fasteners to secure the bandage in place (much better than the old clip style).

4. Elevation

Keeping your affected leg elevated can also help to reduce swelling. Use a pillow underfoot, sit in a recliner or try one of the many wedge pillows on the market.

LightEase Post-Surgery Leg, Knee, Ankle Elevation Pillow, Memory Foam Leg Elevating Pillow for Injure, Sleeping, Reduce Swelling

This wedge pillow is designed to support, elevate and stabilize the knee to relieve discomfort, swelling and fatigue.

5. Pain relief

Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, or Advil), can help to ease knee pain and swelling.

6. Physical therapy

Physical therapy can help to strengthen the muscles around your knee and reduce pain.

How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide

7. Surgery

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair damage to the ligaments or cartilage in your knee.

However, this method will only be used after other less invasive treatments have failed.

8. Alternative treatments

Acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care are all alternative treatments that can help to relieve hiker’s knee.  

Acupuncture involves the placement of thin needles in specific areas of the body to relieve pain.

Massage can help to reduce inflammation and improve range of motion. You can use a foam roller at home to relieve muscle soreness.

Chiropractic care focuses on aligning the spine and joints, which can help to relieve pressure on the knees.

How to Prevent Hiking Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide

Final thoughts

Hiking is a great way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors, but it’s important to take care of your knees to prevent pain. Wearing the proper footwear, maintaining good form, using trekking poles, and gradually increasing your mileage are all key to preventing knee pain.

With proper care and precautions, you can enjoy hiking without knee pain!

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