Need to Know: Why Do I Feel Knee Pain After Hiking?

Have you ever experienced knee pain after hiking? I have, and it’s something I don’t ever wish on anyone. Ouch.

Knee pain from hiking is commonly called “hiker’s knee.” And, unfortunately, hiker’s knee is a common occurrence and complaint when coming off the trail.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent knee pain before, during and after a hike.

Hiking The Priest in Virginia

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In this article, I’m diving into the causes of hiking knee pain, how to treat sore knees, and most importantly, how to keep from experiencing knee pain.

You may wan to take measures to prevent knee pain after hiking, even if you’ve never experienced it before. Hopefully you never will.

Why Do My Knees Hurt After Hiking?

Although it may not always feel like it at the time, hiking can put a lot more stress on your body, muscles and knee joints than typical daily activities.

Sore knees after hiking is actually a very common complaint, especially for beginner hikers.

Of all hiking activities, hiking downhill is largely what causes knee pain. The most common type of knee pain occurs around or behind the knee cap.

This is because your knee absorbs all of your body weight (and then some) when you hike downhill.

Not only is it taking all of that weight, it’s doing so while your ankles and legs are at unusual angles.

Medical studies suggest that walking downhill actually puts stress of up to 8 times your body weight on your knee.

When you’re hiking, you also often have a daypack or backpack, so that’s even more weight and more impact concentrated on your knee cap. 

How Do I Protect My Knees When Hiking?

If you’ve ever experienced knee pain after hiking, you know just how excruciating it can be. Alleviating and eliminating knee pain requires preparation.

Anyone is susceptible to hiker’s knee, even if you’ve never experienced it before. Here are a few tips to avoid experiencing knee pain:

1. Wear the Right Shoes

Proper footwear is essential for protecting your feet, ankles and knees while hiking. It’s exceptional important to wear the right shoes.

Always wear hiking boots or  shoes (like trail runners) that fit well, provide plenty of support and have lots of cushion in the sole to absorb impact.

2. Use Trekking Poles for Downhill Hiking

If you experience knee pain after hiking downhill, try using hiking poles. These poles absorb some of the downhill impact, protecting your knees.

A good pair of trekking poles is a hiking necessity, especially for downhill hiking and walking.

3. Hike in a Switchback Pattern, if Possible

Hiking straight downhill on steep terrain can put the bulk of the impact directly onto your knee cap. This can not only cause pain, but damage, too.

If possible, hike in a switchback or zig-zag pattern when hiking downhill. It may take you take you longer to get down, but your knees will thank you.

4. Take It Slow and Avoid Leaning

Don’t rush downhill. Using a combination of trekking poles, zig-zagging your route, and taking it slow will help protect your knees.

Stay aware of your posture. Leaning back while hiking downhill places more stress on your knee caps. A switchback route can help prevent this.

5. Consider a Knee Brace

If you experience knee pain after hiking, consider wearing a knee brace during your hikes, especially those with significant elevation changes.

If you decide to use a knee brace, be sure to purchase one specifically made for hiking that has side stabilizers and gel pads for patellar tendon support.

Everyday knee braces do not provide the proper support and alignment required while hiking and can even cause more harm than good.

Other considerations include taking joint supplements or eating foods rich in Omega-3’s, as well as strength training between hikes.

How Do I Stop My Knees From Hurting When Hiking Downhill?

Downhill hiking is the most common culprit of causing knee pain after hiking.

If you already have knee pain, a downhill hike can be painful for your knees. If your knee pain is severe, seek out hikes with minimal elevation changes.

winter hiking

Otherwise, here are a few things you can do to prevent knee pain caused by hiking downhill.

      Use trekking poles.

      Hike in a switchback or zig-zag pattern.

      Avoid leaning back.

      Wear proper footwear.

      Take it slow.

      Consider a hiking knee brace.

      Reduce the weight of your gear. Only carry essentials for a day hike.

How Do I Treat Knee Pain After Hiking?

Depending on the severity of your knee pain, there are different options. According to ArizonaPain.com, you can treat knee pain after hiking by:

      Applying ice packs or alternating heat and ice throughout the day.

      Elevating your knees while resting.

      Engaging in light exercise and stretching.

      Treating mild inflammation with OTC meds for pain relief.

If your knee pain is severe or you can’t walk or stand, ArizonaPain.com also suggests checking in with a doctor as soon as possible.

Can Hiking Damage My Knees?

Hikers Hiking

Without proper precautions and listening to your body when you experience pain, hiking may damage your knees.

Examples of knee damage from hiking can include:

      Bursitis: Inflammation, pain, and swelling after repetitive strenuous activity or trauma to the knee.

      Tendinitis: Shooting pain above or below the knee cap, burning and/or swelling. This is caused by repetitive stress on the knee.

      Meniscus tear: This feels like a pop inside your knee followed by stiffness, pain, and swelling. 

      ACL damage: The ACL is a ligament in the knee and damage is a common knee injury, including swelling, severe pain and instability. 

These are not the only kinds of injuries your knees might sustain while hiking, but they are some of the most common.

I don’t share these injuries to alarm you. Rather, I want to convey how important it is to take care of your knees while hiking to prevent them.

Even if you’ve never felt knee pain while hiking, it’s important to take precaution to prevent pain and injury.

For example, keep trekking poles handy for going downhill and try to switchback whenever possible. And of course, always wear proper footwear.

If you take the proper precautions, hopefully you will never have to experience knee pain after hiking!

How Do I Strengthen My Knees for Hiking?

A great preventative measure to protect your knees while hiking is keeping them strong and healthy.

There are many different ways to train and strengthen your knees for the trail.

Here are a few exercises you can do:

    Straight leg raises while lying on your back

    Straight leg raises while lying on your stomach

    Step-ups on a platform or stair

    Wall squats

    Cycling

    Lunges

Working out on a regular basis is highly recommended to keep your entire body strong and ready for the trails.

Taking Care of Your Knees for Hiking

No hikers want to experience knee pain after hiking. Take care of yourself with an exercise routine and tune in to your body while hiking.

Go slow, use aids like a knee brace and hiking poles, wear the right footwear, and always listen to your body.

Disclaimer: The words in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended as medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor with any questions regarding your health or a medical condition.