After Hiking Knee Pain? Read This!

Why do you experience after hiking knee pain? Hiking can be tough on our knees, which is why they’re so prone to pain. They take quite a beating during hours spent trekking across rough terrain with little cushioning from rocks or roots sticking up underfoot. There can be many reasons your knees hurt after hiking. Sometimes just showing them a little care is enough to prevent it from starting in the first place. We’ll talk about what causes hiker’s knee pain and ways to prevent it below.

Causes of Knee Pain After Hiking

Knees hurt after hiking? Xray image of knee joint, where many hiking injuries can occur

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  • Bursitis: Caused when the bursae of the knees become inflamed. Bursae are fluid filled sacs on your knees that provides cushion and helps reduce friction in the joint.
  • Knee tendinitis: A fairly common injury to the tendon in your leg that connects your kneecap to your shin, is caused by overuse.
  • Tendinosis: Another condition caused by overuse, tendinosis happens when your tendon starts to breakdown due to small tears or repeated injury.
  • Meniscus tear: This common knee injury is the result of forcefully twisting or rotating your knee. Sometimes even kneeling or squatting can cause it.
  • ACL damage: Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a band of tissue connecting your thigh bone to your shin bone. When you injure this ligament, you may hear or feel a “pop” in your knee.
  • Synovial plica syndrome: Also caused by injury or overuse, SPS occurs when your plica (protective folds in your knee) become irritated. Those with SPS may feel pain or a popping sensation or hear clicking while attempting activities.
  • Iliotibial band syndrome: IT band syndrome mostly occurs in athletes or people new to exercise. While an exact cause isn’t known, it’s proven that repeated extending and bending of the knee is partially responsible.
  • Runner’s knee: Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, is just the medical way to say, “pain in the front of your knee, around your kneecap”. It has many causes including poor foot support and excessive use.
  • Knee Osteoarthritis: A type of knee arthritis. Knee osteoarthritis happens when your knee’s cartilage starts to wear away causing frayed areas.

Preventing Knee Pain Before Your Hike

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”- My Grandma and lots of other people have said. If you know you’re prone to your knees hurting during or after hiking, spend some time beforehand taking preventative measures to stop knee pain before it starts.

Pick the Right Footwear. Supportive shoes or boots might just be the easiest way to help prevent knee pain or injuries in hikers. The proper footwear can help you traverse uneven terrain and obstacles like tree roots or rocks more safely.

Reduce Your Hiking Pack Weight. Your pack adds to the strain on your knees. Keeping it as light as possible will help reduce that strain. An easy way to reduce your pack weight is by resisting the urge to overpack and only taking what you need. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Coming from a chronic over-packer, you should definitely notice a difference if you lighten up.

Read: Finding Your Ideal Backpack Weight and Tips to Lighten Up

Build Your Leg Muscles. Building stronger leg muscles can help with keeping your knees stable when hiking on uneven ground. Squats, reverse lunges, glute bridges, deadlifts and step ups are all good choices to help build stronger legs.

Stretch. Warming up your muscles before a hike can help them become more elastic and reduce the risk of pain and injury.

How to Prevent Knee Pain While Hiking

Try a Brace. Braces provide additional support and help restrict motion and provide stabilization. And they don’t have to be stiff or uncomfortable. The results of a study published by Arthritis Research and Therapy show that a soft elastic knee brace is helpful for considerably reducing knee pain and helping with knee stability.

Use Trekking Poles. Hiking poles can help you better distribute weight and reduce the pressure on your knees. They are especially helpful on downhill sections of the trail, where the force on your knees can be up to 8 times your body weight!

Try Compression Socks.

What to Do if Your Knees Hurt After Hiking

At Home

While you should talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing knee pain, there are some things you can try at home to reduce the pain in your knees.

Rest: Kick your feet up for a little while

Hot/Cold Therapy: Ice packs or alternating hot and cold packs can provide relief

Heat: Taking a hot shower or bath can help relax your joints.

What Your Doctor May Do for Your Knee Pain

Persistent or intense knee pain is a reason to have your doctor check you out. You’ll really want to be seen if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Severe swelling
  • Severe bruising
  • If you notice a deformity in your knee
  • Signs of infection
  • Long lasting symptoms (more than a few days)

After figuring out the cause of your knee pain, your doctor may suggest one or more of these treatments to help manage or rid you of your pain.

Physical Therapy: Your doctor may want you to try physical therapy to help heal pain and prevent more injury simultaneously.

Medication: Over the counter medications can provide relief, but your doctor may prescribe you medication that can help more. I like using Tiger Balm for aches and pains. It doesn’t fix everything all the time, but it does provide me a lot of relief, and it’s pretty inexpensive for the help it gives.

Surgery: Some injuries are more serious and may require surgery to alleviate the problem and the pain. This is usually the last resort option and offered after other treatments have failed.

Knee pain can sideline your hiking adventures, but there are ways to prevent it before and during your hike. If you’re currently experiencing knee pain, there are still steps you can take to make your hike more comfortable. We hope this article has given you the information you need to enjoy a pain-free hike. Happy trails!

Ideal Backpack Weight and Tips to Lighten Your Load