I’m 34 years young, but my knees make me feel much older. I’ve been an avid hiker for years, and while I love being outdoors, I often think about the long-term impacts of all that impact on my knees. Recently, I’ve heard more and more people say that hiking is bad for your knees. And so it got me wondering, is hiking bad for your knees?
The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. While some potential risks are associated with hiking, overall, the activity is relatively low-impact and can be beneficial for knee health. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and take steps to minimize them. So I wanted to address it all in this article.
Is Hiking Bad for Your Knees?
One of the biggest potential knee hazards of hiking is repetitive impact. Every time your foot hits the ground, a small amount of impact force is absorbed by your leg. This force is transmitted up through your bones and joints. Over time, the cumulative effect of this force can lead to joint damage and pain, particularly in the knees.
Another potential risk factor is carrying too much weight. When you carry a lot of weight on your back, it puts extra stress on your joints, which can lead to pain and injury. So think twice before loading up your backpack.
Finally, hiking on uneven terrain can also put stress on your knees. Uneven surfaces can cause your knee to twist or turn in an unnatural way, which can lead to pain and injury. This is another reason I typically recommend trekking poles. I’ll cover it in more depth below.
However, despite these potential risks, hiking is generally a low-impact activity. The impact forces involved are typically much lower than those associated with activities like running or jumping. And, when done correctly, hiking can actually be beneficial for knee health. Walking, in general, builds muscles, which takes the pressure off your joints – such as your knee.
How Do I Prevent Knee Pain when Hiking?
To minimize the risk of knee pain when hiking, there are a few things you can do. First, as I mentioned above, be aware of the potential risks and take steps to avoid them. This means being careful not to overdo it and gradually increasing the distance and difficulty of your hikes. It also means being mindful of your weight and not carrying more than you need to.
Use Trekking Poles
Second, use trekking poles. Trekking poles take some of the impact force off your knees and help you keep your balance on uneven terrain. I personally never hike without them anymore.
Trekking poles work by absorbing some of the impact force with each step. They also help you keep your balance, which can reduce the risk of twisting or turning your knee on uneven terrain. And, when used correctly, they can actually help you hike faster and with less effort.
Wear Knee Support
Another thing you can do is wear knee support. A knee brace can help reduce the impact force on your knees and provide stability on uneven terrain. I often wear knee support when hiking, especially on longer or more difficult hikes.
There are a variety of knee braces available, so it’s important to choose one that’s comfortable and provides the level of support you need. I typically prefer a simple sleeve-style brace. But there are also more complex braces that provide additional support.
Focus On Your Form
Fourth, focus on your form. When hiking, be sure to keep your knees aligned with your feet and avoid twisting or turning them unnaturally. This will help minimize the risk of pain and injury.
Make sure your posture is upright and avoid leaning forward. If you’re carrying a backpack, be sure to adjust the straps so that the weight is evenly distributed. And take your time on uneven terrain.
Listen To Your Body
Finally, listen to your body. If you start to experience knee pain, take a break and rest. And if the pain persists, be sure to see a doctor.
Hiking is a great way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. But it’s important to be aware of the potential risks, particularly to your knees.
Is Hiking Downhill Bad for Your Knees?
I wouldn’t necessarily say downhill hiking is bad for your knees, but it can cause extra stress on your knees. When going downhill, our body weight shifts forward, and we tend to lean into our descent.
This increases the impact force on our front knee joints. Additionally, our muscles have to work harder on steep descents to keep us from falling. This can lead to fatigue and muscle soreness, which can put extra strain on our joints.
I had this really bad problem on my downhill hikes that was caused by fear of looking down. I would buckle my knees to keep my center of gravity low and grip the ground with my toes to keep from slipping. DO NOT DO THIS!
Buckling or locking your knees while hiking is a recipe for knee pain and potentially serious injury. Instead, try this:
- Keep your knees slightly bent and loose, never locked.
- Focus on planting each foot solidly on the ground before taking your next step.
- Be extra careful on slippery surfaces. Use trekking poles for added stability.
- Go slowly and take your time. It’s not a race!
Conversely, hiking uphill is actually great for your knees. The reduced impact force is easy on your joints, and the added muscle activity helps to strengthen your leg muscles and support your knees.
Is Hiking Bad for Knee Arthritis?
According to Adam Rivadeneyra, a sports medicine specialist in California, hiking is actually a great exercise for those with knee arthritis.
“Hiking is great for arthritis because it keeps the joints mobile and the surrounding muscles strong,” Rivadeneyra says. However, he also that it’s important to hike smart with arthritis. What does that mean? “Turning a short hike into an all-day struggle to find your destination can be disastrous for anyone but especially those with arthritis,” Rivadeneyra says.
To summarize a few key points:
- Start slow and build up gradually. Don’t try to do too much too soon.
- Choose flat, smooth trails. Avoid steep inclines or declines, and watch out for roots, rocks, and other obstacles.
- Choose a well-marked trail.
- Lastly, don’t overdo it!
Knee pain is one of the most common problems associated with hiking, among many other physical activities. The best way to avoid knee pain is to hike smart. That means to warm up before you hike, focus on your form, listen to your body, and be careful on downhill sections. (Don’t lock your knees!)
If you’ve been experiencing knee pain on your hikes, consider trekking poles, a knee brace, and a little extra care and attention. Knee pain happens to all of us, but it doesn’t need to be a regular occurrence. With a little bit of effort, you can minimize or avoid knee pain and hike happily ever after.