Friday, March 23, 2018

Knee Health Tips for Hikers

While knee pain is more common among athletes, dancers, and runners, hikers are no stranger to common overuse injuries associated with the knee either. Consciously taking care of your knees early on, especially if you are an avid hiker, will lower the risk of musculoskeletal problems later in life and improve your body’s ability to scale more challenging terrain. It will also lessen knee problems once old age kicks in, or when your body's muscles, ligaments, and joints work less efficiently compared to your younger years.

As a hiker, you can ward off knee pain and accompanying complications by being proactive about injury prevention. You’ll need to take the necessary steps to build knee strength and flexibility so you can continue to do what you love for many years.

Wear the right shoes

Invest in a good pair of shoes that fit comfortably and have a few pairs to use alternately.

Hiking Boots Vs. Hiking Shoes (Trail Runners)
  • Boots pros: Some hikers prefer to wear hiking boots because they’re usually made of waterproof materials. With thick soles that can support the feet best when walking on an uneven, muddy, or slippery terrain, this type of footwear is also good to use if you're carrying heavy loads.
  • Boots cons: Hiking boots are heavy, which can make running difficult and put more strain on your knees. You'll need a break-in period for these types of shoes and they may take longer to dry out if soaked.
  • Runners pros: Some hikers want to wear trail runners since it offers more mobility and provides excellent traction. Though not usually made of waterproof materials, this lighter type of shoe allows better feet ventilation and dries faster when soaked.
  • Runner cons: Trail runners are great for mild terrain but offer little support when hiking on wet or muddy trails. They may wear out quicker than boots and offer less ankle support.
Use protective equipment

Consider wearing a sports knee brace made of breathable and elastic materials that will help with joint compression. A knee brace can reduce knee stress when walking and provide support and alignment. You might also want to bring a hiking or trekking pole so that your weight can be distributed evenly to your knees, arms and shoulders.

Lose weight

Carrying extra weight puts more stress on your knee joints. According to experts, your knee supports one and a half times your body weight when you walk. Hiking on an inclined and uneven terrain adds more pressure and force by as much as three times your body weight.

Lose the extra pounds with a smart diet and lots of physical activity. For exercise, consider low-impact exercises such as yoga and swimming to lessen the strain on your knees.

Do strength and flexibility exercises

Your knee muscles become stronger if you regularly do weight-bearing workouts that also involve the hamstring, thighs, and calves. Before heading out, do lunges and stretches first to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for the impending stress and pressure of a hike.

Supplement your diet and cut your vices

Increase your intake of vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, and calcium to boost bone health and keep your knees stronger. Add more lubricating foods rich in Omega-3 to help lessen friction in your knee joints. And know that smoking depletes the nutrients in your body as well as can cause shortness of breath when you hike.

Be conscious of how you move

A downhill hike poses more risks to your knees compared to walking on a level or even ground or going uphill. Some hikers move as if they’re resisting the pull of gravity while going down to avoid falling or rolling over. The better approach to a downhill hike is to let gravity work with your movements.
  • Downhill hike, smooth slope: If you’re going hiking downhill on a smoother slope, resist the urge to stop too often or too much. Braking causes frequent knee jerks and you may end up with swollen knees afterward.
  • Downhill hike, uneven surface: It’s so easy to lock your knees if you’re not being careful, especially when declining from a steep, rocky, or muddy surface. Take a slow and steady pace only and if possible, go downhill in sideways or zigzag motion to lessen the impact on your knees.
If possible, plan a downhill hike when you’re near the end of your route and have had spent most of your energy and resources like food or water.

After your hike, see to it that your body gets the rest it needs to fully recover. If your knee pain can’t be relieved with pain medication or home remedies, see a doctor as soon as possible.

This is a guest blog entry.

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