Head Coach of Summit Stength Rowan Smith has a thing or three to say about knee pain.
Knee pain while hiking is an easy way to turn a beautiful day out into a nightmare. And unfortunately it is an incredibly common issue for hikers and trekkers. If you ever experienced this, chances are you have done some research on how to stop it. But more than likely you have come across the same advice I did… “Use a knee brace”, “tape up your knee” or “get some orthotics”. And while these things can help in the short term, they are only really a band aid solution.
Unfortunately they don't do anything to fix the underlying issues. The second you stop using them, the pain comes back. And then you are stuck in a never ending loop… But there a solution for this! Here is a 3 step plan to help prevent hiker's knee on the trail.
Step #1: Mobility One of the biggest contributors to knee pain is restricted movement in certain muscles. This is usually caused by a combination of the strains of modern living as well as the demands of whatever exercise you might be doing. The issue here is that for the knee to work best, it has to remain stable.
However, if the joints both above and below the knee do not have enough movement, the body will compensate by allowing more movement through the knee joint. This is not a good thing! In order for the knees to stay safe, stable and pain free, you must ensure that the ankles and the hips have sufficient range of motion. This is best done through regular:
- Foam rolling to ‘release’ the muscles
- Static stretching to ‘lengthen’ the muscles
- Completing specific warm up routines, before hiking and training, to prepare these muscles for exercise
Step #2: Stability Traditionally weights have been overlooked by hikers around the world. And there are a lot of myths around strength training that do not seem to go away. Things like 'weights will make me bulky' or 'weights are bad for your joints' are things that I hear every day. But the simple fact is; a well thought out and applied strength training program is the very best thing for preventing knee pain.
When the stabilising muscles of the knee are not strong enough, they will fatigue prematurely. This will prevent the knees from staying stable and secure, which will lead to more movement in the knee joint. This makes the joint take a lot more strain then it should and will lead to pain. In order to stabilise the joint and protect the knees, the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings need to be strengthened.
Great exercises for this include:
- Glute bridges
- Mini Band Walks
- Step downs
- Single leg deadlifts
Step #3: Use Trekking Poles Multiple studies have shown that they can significantly reduce the amount of force the knee takes while walking downhill. They have also been shown to help improve movement economy while going uphill. This will contribute to preventing knee pain by minimising fatigue and helping the stabilising muscles stay active for longer.
And finally, trekking poles are very effective at improving balance. So it will minimise the risk of slips and falls which often put a huge amount of strain through the knees. I highly recommend you buy some and use them!
Rowan is the founder of Summit Strength, a personal training service which specialisies in preparing amateur hikers, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.