If you’ve ever gone on a multi-day hike, or even if you’ve just taken a look at our Instagram photos, you’ll know that painful knees are a super common problem with hikers! This week we’re taking a look at why we get painful knees!
Why our knees hurt
Knee pain isn’t experienced only by beginning hikers, since they happen to everybody. Even to super fit, experienced hikers! That’s because knee pain is caused by a combination of physics and physiology, and it’s not as complicated as it might sound.
Knees (and hips!) are most prone to injury because these joints bear most of the weight of your body. Even while walking on level ground, your knees bear weight greater than your body weight due to the force exerted. This force is even greater when you’re walking downhill, because your knees are essentially serving as a break, keeping gravity from pulling you straight down that hill!
Aside from the physics of hiking, we must also consider the way the body works. Walking downhill is called an eccentric exercise, which means that your muscles are both lengthening and activated. On the other side of the coin, we have uphill walking, which is a cocentric exercise, or an exercise where a muscle is shortened while activated.
To paint a clearer picture, imagine doing push-ups. When you push up off the floor, that is a cocentric exercise. When you ease yourself back down, that is an eccentric exercise.
But how does this all relate to your knees? It’s simple, really. When you go hiking, it’s the knees that are used and abused most often! They carry nearly all of your body weight when you hike, and that includes both uphill and downhill walking. But there are many ways to avoid and alleviate knee pain while still enjoying your beautiful Adventure Abroad hike.
Keep your feet flat
When walking uphill, keep your feet flat on the ground as you walk. This ensures that the correct muscle groups are being worked. This way, your calves get the workout, and the strain on your knees is lessened.
Do a zigzag!
When going downhill, trying to simply walk down the incline puts too much force on your knees. Instead, try zigzagging from side to side as you go down the incline. This technique, which lessens the strain on your knees, is called switchbacking. To do this, angle yourself to the left and take a few steps down, then angle yourself to the right as you take another few steps down.
Stretching both before and after a hike is very important! No matter how fit you are, or how much you’ve trained for your hike, stretching before heading out is essential. Stretching prepares your muscles for the hard work they’re about to do. In the same vein, stretching after your hike allows the muscles to loosen up.
Trekking poles are an absolute blessing for suffering knees! Whether it’s going uphill or downhill, poles provide stability and ease the load on your knees by lessening the amount of weight placed on your knees.