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Treating Knee Pain After Hiking – Tips to Keep Your Joints Safe

Your knee takes the beating of long hikes and climbs. If it starts to ache, do you know how to alleviate the pain?

Treating Knee Pain After Hiking

Photo by Jon Hieb

Also known as runner’s knee or hiking knee, pain on the leg joints after a hiking adventure happens to a lot of individuals. Some are just typical signs of exhaustion, while others experience a more intense kind of pain. The key to treating knee aches after hiking is knowing the root cause so you can apply the right medication. Of course, the advice of a medical professional is unbeatable during these conditions.

What causes knee pain?

Many conditions can cause problems on your joints after your hike. It could be simple exhaustion or an underlying condition worsened by your last hike. Consider the following condition, and to be sure, it’s best to consult with a doctor.

Joint overuse

The most common problem that avid hikers experience is an overused joint. This may cause mild to average aching in the knee area. There can be mild swelling as well that will go away in a day or two. Although tired joints aren’t a serious condition, you should never dismiss it as something that will pass on its own. Over time, subjecting your joints to this stress will trigger the development of other joint problems.

Remember that persistent pain on your kneecap means that your cartilage is starting to thin out. Over time, this will start the onset of osteoarthritis.

Weak glutes

If you’re a constant sitter and you suddenly decided to go on a hike, expect that you’ll go home with a bad knee. The culprit here is your tight glutes. It’s also called the ‘sitting plague’ as people who sit for long hours often suffer from this condition. Some of these people are office workers who sit behind their desks for at least eight hours a day.

Since your glutes are weak, it will pull on the knee, which explains the pain after a long hike.

Aside from weak glutes, the reflexors of your hips are also tight. These reflexors allow you to make wide and twisty movements with your hips. So if this is tight, it will compromise your leg muscles; thus, taxing your knees too much.

Haphazard downhill hike

Whenever you’re hiking downhill, your knees experience more force. According to doctors, downhill hiking puts pressure on your joints equivalent to up to 8.5 times your body weight. Just imagine the weight your knees are carrying. It’s not surprising that you’ll end up with hurt knees.

Also, if you go fast on a downhill hike, you’re punishing your knees even more. If you make this a habit every hike, your knees will experience accumulated damage. After a few hikes, you will start to feel lingering pain in your kneecap area.

Tendonitis

Knee tendonitis is characterized by intense pain above and below the kneecap. If it’s accompanied by a burning and swelling sensation, your knee tendons may be sore.

Tendinitis doesn’t happen in a snap. It’s the result of accumulated damage on the knee. When the tendons get overused, it will start to exhibit symptoms of overuse. Even if your tendons aren’t broken, the tiny tears will cause your knees to feel weak and painful.

ACL injury

ACL or Anterior Cruciate Ligament tears are one of the most dreaded knee injuries not just of hikers but also of athletes. ACL tear is a career-breaker for athletes. For hikers, it may take months for a torn ACL to heal fully. And even if it does, you may not restore the same strength and endurance of your knees.

Once an ACL tears, it will produce a popping sound. At the same time, it will cause unbearable pain to the person. Also, after a few hours, you will notice intense swelling on your affected leg.

IT band issues

The Iliotibial tissue connects various structures of our lower body. The pain of this part of the leg is also called the IT band problems. It happens when the IT band becomes overused, swollen, and tight. Take note that the pain due to this condition will intensify with movement.

Osteoarthritis

If you’re an avid hiker and closing into the senior age, you should entertain the possibility of osteoarthritis. This is a degenerative condition that happens on your joints over time due to the thinning of the cartilage.

If you go on hikes, the symptoms of osteoarthritis will worsen.

Should you be worried?

Any pain that you feel should be a cause of concern. Although it’s just mild pain, it’s your body’s way of saying that something’s wrong. And before it becomes a big problem, you must act fast to prevent it from worsening.

Always seek immediate medical attention if the pain on your kneecap is unbearable. Do the same thing even if the pain occurred days after your hike. This way, a doctor can diagnose the problem properly. You might be surprised that your knees’ cartilage is already thinning, or your tendons are irritated.

Treating knee pain due to hiking

Knee pain can be excruciating and limiting, but there are some ways to ease it. You can follow these tips for immediate relief.

Give it a rest

Pain is our body’s alert system that something’s wrong. So when you feel that your knees are hurting, let it rest. Avoid overexerting a painful knee. If you do, you will only cause more damages to your tendon or ACL. Also, you’ll be thinning your joint’s cartilage faster.

Take long breaks after an extended hike. This will give your knees enough time to heal. Aside from your joints, it will also borrow some time for your leg muscles to recover.

Minor knee pain will go away after a short rest. But if it recurs, you should seek the advice of a doctor. There might be more to it than mere exhaustion of the joints.

Follow the RICE drill

This is a rule of thumb for all hikers and sporty individuals. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. We mentioned the rest above, which is necessary to contain the problem. Next, you can use an ice pack to reduce the swelling. Do this the moment you notice that your knee area is starting to get inflamed.

After that, wear a knee sleeve or wrap it with a snug cloth bandage. This compression will support the knee area to prevent overexertion.

Pain relievers

Upon consultation with a medical professional, you may be prescribed with pain relievers. This will provide immediate yet temporary relief. There are a lot of OTC options, including a variety of NSAIDs. Take note that you shouldn’t take NSAIDs for too long. If you have other medications, consult with a doctor first. Even if it’s just an ibuprofen pill, it can still have strong contraindication on the other medicines you’re taking.

Consultation with a physician

The best solution to your aching knee is consulting with a doctor. You can make an appointment to the nearest chiropractor to get your knees checked. This way, you’ll know exactly what’s wrong on your joints and what solution is suitable for it.

As much as possible, avoid self-medication if the pain is too unbearable. Ask the opinion of a doctor, so you won’t be guessing what’s going on with your knee. This is also crucial if you’re an avid hiker and planning your next adventure.

Don’t wait for your knee pain to take a drastic turn. It’s best to have it checked right away to receive the proper medication while it’s still manageable.

How to prevent knee pain due to hiking

Why wait for your knees to start aching before you act? Even if you feel like your knees are in good shape, you should still practice some pre-hiking preparation. Here are some of the things we recommend:

Stretch before you hike

Stretching is a must-do whatever physical activity you’re about to perform. It preps your muscles for strenuous climbs and treks. So before you go on a hike, make sure that you have loosened up your leg muscles, and you have given your knees a head start.

Strecth properly to engage various muscle groups in the body. Take note that you should also stretch your upper body. This way, you will prevent pulled muscles if you have to grip on branches or work your way with your pole.

Wear a knee brace

A knee brace can do wonders on your joints during a long hike. It prevents overextension of the knees, and it also provides a compression effect that boosts the circulation on the knee area. This way, your muscles and tendons will be more flexible, which will prevent too much damage.

Still, knee braces and sleeves are just supports. Don’t consider it a total knee shield.

Choose the right shoes

What you put on your feet also matters when hiking! Your shoes will impact how much force your knee has to endure. Look for hiking boots with a cushion that will reduce the impact of your steps. As much as possible, look for a grippy sole to prevent tumbling on slippery surfaces.

Use a trekking pole

A trekking pole isn’t just meant for poking things around. It’s also added support so you can climb on steep trails without putting all the force on your joints. Also, your hiking pole will allow you to transfer a portion of the force from your knee to the pole.

According to the Journal of Sports Sciences, using a trekking pole will reduce the impact of a 25-degree ramp climb on your joints by as much as 25%.

In the same vein, make sure that you choose a durable pole that will not snap easily.

Make use of some stops

As much as you want to finish the trail, allot some time for shortstops. This way, you can rest your knees and feet. Also, it’s your time to refresh or to take a quick nap if you have hiking buddies.

Short breaks are a great way to reduce the strain on your muscles. This way, you can also check if your gears are in good condition.

Reduce the weight of your pack

Packing light isn’t just applicable to your flight luggage. You should also observe the same diligence when packing for your next hike. Take note that all the weight that you put on your rucksack won’t just hurt your back. It will also punish your knees even more. Pair that with a steep climb, and you stand the chance of having a torn ACL or intense tendonitis.

Don’t rush!

Remember, you’re out there to hike, not to race! Enjoy the trek and take it easy. This way, your knees won’t be shocked by the intense force. Usually, hiking groups will maintain a pace that suits the level of each hiker.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I strengthen my knees for hiking?

A: Aside from following our tips above, you can also strengthen your knees for hiking through lunges, squats, knee raises, and kettlebell deadlifts. If done right, this should beef up your leg muscles.

Q: What helps with pain after hiking?

A: The RICE method and consultation with a doctor are the best ways to deal with knee pain due to hiking. This way, you can arrest the swelling, and you’ll receive the ideal medication for your condition.

Q: How do I get better at hiking downhill?

A: To reduce the impact on your joints, always look for your center of gravity. Also, take short steps and avoid rushing. Also, pack light and always have a pole handy.

Conclusion

Treating knee pain due to hiking should be easier if you seek the help of a doctor. Don’t dismiss mild knee pain as a small issue. You’ll never know if you might be brewing a more serious condition unless you have it checked. Being proactive always pays off for avid hikers. That applies too to their overall health.


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