Oct 26, 2009 at 9:41 pm #1240616
I wasn't sure where to put this, but I was hoping to get some advice on strengthening my knees somehow.
I am a fairly inexperienced hiker, but in the last three months, I've gone on three hikes, a 10 mile 2-day in the NC mountains, a 20 mile 3-day in the Chisos mountains of Big Bend, and most recently 40 miles over 3.5 days down the Buckskin Gulch/Paria river.
On every hike, my knees have been absolutely killing me. While I have had some tendinitis in the past, it has never been anything like this. I do fine without a pack, but I think the added weight is the problem. Most trips have had 40-50lbs total pack weight including food, water, and clothes. Is there any way to build up my knees to get used to the weight? Should I just start going on regular walks around the neighborhood with my pack loaded up? I'd really like to do some longer trips, but I'm afraid to undertake much more distance with the pain I've been experiencing.Oct 26, 2009 at 9:54 pm #1539993
This will be interesting. On a lightweight forum, you're going to get more responses saying that reducing you pack weight to a reasonable weight will cure your knees.
My knees used to hurt going downhill. Running up bleachers and walking down seems to have cured that.Oct 26, 2009 at 10:17 pm #1540000
@davecLocale: Crown of the Continent
Lowering your pack weight will certainly help this issue, and give you other benefits besides. Especially with slow, rough, sandy terrain like Buckskin/Paria.
By strengthen your knees, you most likely mean strengthen the muscles that stabilize and let your knees work. Most beginner hikers have weak legs, and their knees end up taking too much of the load when muscles get tired. I presume this is the case with you.
So you need stronger legs. Hiking on rough terrain is the most enjoyable way to do this, and also the most effective. Hiker regularly, build up to big miles, and so on.
Besides that, balance/strength work will ease things along faster. Get a balance board, balance ball, or slackline. Spend 30 minutes on it every day. I had IT band problems in the past due to weak hamstrings, and do core work (front levers mainly) and standing leg rows around the clock everyday to prevent that from ever happening again.
A little patience will have long term rewards.Oct 26, 2009 at 10:55 pm #1540004
@redmonkLocale: Greater California Ecosystem
do you use trekking poles?Oct 26, 2009 at 11:32 pm #1540008
@skopeoLocale: British Columbia
…Oct 26, 2009 at 11:58 pm #1540010
@foundLocale: Sacramento, CA
Something I do multiple times a day is stand on one foot. I can actually feel it strengthening my knees. I do it at random times. Like waiting for the light to change at a cross walk, or waiting in line, or talking to someone. I just lift one foot off the ground a *tiny* bit and boom, I'm strengthening my knee.Oct 27, 2009 at 3:31 am #1540025
@nerdboy52Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
A combination of problems led me to pain in the knees.I have a trick knee that just goes out every few years. A case of degenerative disc disease indicated that all my cartilage was drying up. Also, I weighed 245 pounds on a 5' 10" frame. Every step pounded hard against my weak link. I had to stop running because of it.
I lost 100 pounds, mostly by walking 12 miles per day. I cut my pack weight from a then 35 pounds to six plus food and water. I also started to use trekking poles. On downhills, I walked much more slowly — no bouncing or running or bounding. Take it easy. I used the trekking poles in front of me to cushion the blow of the leg against the ground. All the walking strengthened the muscles around my knee, taking the pressure off the joint and cartilage.
The combo worked for me. The trekking poles took the weight off the knee, especially downhill. The loss of personal and pack weight did the same. Obviously, the loss of personal weight was far more important than a few pounds off my back.
I know I'm just repeating advice that others have given here, but I'd just like to say that it's a combination of factors. Most of all, keep walking. The first few dozen trips will be agony. But just like those first blisters eventually lead to blessed calluses, so too does the walking lead to all kinds of strength, not just in the knee.
Be gentle with yourself at first. Walk around your neighborhood or some local park for a couple of hours a day for a few months until the muscles around your knees gain strength and take some of the pressure off the joints and cartilage. Slowly, work yourself back up BPing.
Oh, yes, also see a physician, JIC. I wouldn't have known about my more serious condition if I hadn't been so concerned about the joint pain.
StargazerOct 27, 2009 at 4:35 am #1540027
Thomas, try Pacerpoles (www.paceperoles.co.uk) if you look at the technique they use for descending you'll really save your knees. Since I started using them I've had zero painOct 27, 2009 at 5:09 am #1540030
@abhittLocale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Cory I don't want to hijack this thread but I am headed down Buckskin and Paria in a few days and wondered how the conditions in Buckskin were? Did you go after the Sept. 15th flood? Amount of and depth of pools?
I too will suffer from a sore knee. I start walking 3 miles, every other day, 5 weeks before a trip with a progressively heavier pack until the pack weighs 10# more than I expect to carry. When I get to the trail head not only does the pack feel light but my feet, legs, hips and shoulders are ready for the long trip. I also make sure to were the shoes I will hike in because that will affect how your feet and legs adjust too.
I also use poles.Oct 27, 2009 at 6:29 am #1540047
I too experienced almost unbearable knee pain in my left knee towards the end of each day. It was interesting in that it didn't hurt at all going uphill or while the terrain was flat, but the instant I started downhill I was limping.
My savior was a simple device from Cho-Pat. Here's the link:
It really made a difference in my comfort while hiking and a hiking partner of mine experienced the same.
For $25.95 it might be worth a try…Oct 27, 2009 at 6:52 am #1540052
@figsterLocale: Central Arkansas
Devices like the Chopat help out wonderfully. There are a lot of different types of that device out there. Check the all out for weight, material, and comfort!
Having the same issues as the above poster – down hills creating problems, I've come to pay close attention to how each step I take effects my legs, knees, and hips.
A shorter stride is probably the single best thing I took up.
exrx.net has a good list of stretches. Also check out testosterone nation for good stretches too (sounds lame but they have great minds and coaches working for them).
JackOct 27, 2009 at 6:54 am #1540053
@figsterLocale: Central Arkansas
That famous "rest step" with no pivoting helps a ton while going up hill.
In fact, if you have knee problems, turn as if you're in a space suit. Never just turn at your knees or hips with weight on your back.Oct 27, 2009 at 8:16 am #1540075
Cory, do you take Glucosamine Chondroiton? I started taking it last year, and I really think it has helped my joints. It couldn't hurt. Luckily, I found a local store that carries slightly outdated bottles for about 3% of usual prices!Oct 27, 2009 at 8:22 am #1540077
@nerdboy52Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
I tried GC, and it had a strange effect on my temperament. It made me nervous and emotional with crying jags, no less. Stopped taking it and I went back to normal.
Good suggestion on the rest step, etc. Your stride makes a big difference in the knee area.
StargazerOct 27, 2009 at 8:42 am #1540082
@markrLocale: Santa Cruz
I might try some these myself. An important thing to remember is that there are so many different problems that you could be suffering from. I would approach any new behaviour cautiously. Start slow and be ready to quit if things get worse.
Personally, I find bicyling on the road to be the best way to strengthen my knees without causing more damage. It helps that I love to bike. I say road biking because mountain biking tends to be more irregular in the amount and type of output.Oct 27, 2009 at 9:24 am #1540088
@iwillchopyouhotmail-comLocale: Lake Tahoe
I'll throw in my $.02. I've had knee surgery (torn minuscus + patella tendon release) and have been through the physical therapy (too many times to count for different injuries) to get me back in strength.
I think that the Cho-pat straps are good, but they can become a crutch that doesn't correct the underlying cause of the problem. Some people may not ever be able to perform without them, others can use them to give relief while they correct the issue. Correcting tightness and muscle imbalances are what you need to look at to get your self strong and pain-free.
One of the best exercises for the knee is cycling, especially with your foot clipped into the pedal so that you can apply force all the way through the stroke–down, back, up, forward (like pedaling in circles). This will get most of the muscles in the knee.
Since you didn't say where your knees hurt, I'm assuming it's either IT band syndrome or patellafemoral syndrome. Check out these video links for some more exercises:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dir6JAuPj_0&feature=relatedOct 27, 2009 at 9:24 am #1540089
@thinairLocale: 6237' - Manitou Springs
I agree with Thomas about seeing a doctor.
I've had knee issues for years.
One doc sent me to physical therapy (second doc), but the weight training and skiers squats greatly increased my pain and apparently did further damage.
So I saw a third doc who determined with MRI that I have a torn meniscus. Surgery for me in December.
My point is don't do more damage while trying to strengthen.Oct 27, 2009 at 3:48 pm #1540211
Thanks to all who have commented. Someone pointed out that I had not mentioned where exactly the pain was. It is mostly patellofemoral syndrome, and I do where the cho-pat style devices. I also have pain on the outside of my left knee which I had never known a name for, but in looking at pictures related to IT band inflammation, that looks to be exactly what I'm experiencing. I have used walking sticks before (actual sticks, not manufactured poles), and they did seem to help as well.
It is primarily aggravated by downhill walking/hiking as someone else mentioned. I am hoping to see a doctor this year to check it out just in case, and given his okay, I plan to try some of the exercises and stretches shown. I think some of the advice about watching how I turn and step is particularly important. I notice I have to start doing this once the pain kicks in, but I really need to make a mental habit of doing that before the pain sets in to hopefully avoid or diminish it.
Alex, I tried to PM you about Paria, but you do not have an e-mail attached for that. Shoot me an e-mail/PM, and I'll be happy to answers your questions. I just did the hike two weeks ago, so it was after the flood.Oct 30, 2009 at 11:28 am #1541234
@ramblerLocale: On the AT in VA
I had knee pain. Doctor diagnosed strained MCL. Went to a physical therapist, who gave me exercises to strengthen the knee. Eventually worked up from exercises to weights. There are some easy to do at home stretches specifically for strengthening knees for hikers.
Other hikers often mention that going downhill is harder on the knees. I found this out in my case. I hurt my knee in February and tried hiking 100 miles on the AT in PA in April. Second day out I was in a lot of pain aggravated by hiking down hill. I actaully called my daughter in DC to come pick me up. Luckily, I had no cell phone reception. I hiked out of the pain and finished my hike. By August it was strong enough and I hiked the JMT without knee pain.
Of course, a couple of weeks after I got home, I threw my back out. Missed getting back on the AT., and have had bad leg (sciatic nerve) pain for several weeks now. Again physical therapy is helping.
Stretch and do specific weight training to strengthen the knees. For example, put your back against one of those big exercise balls with the ball against the wall. Do squats. Hold in the down position for 30 sec. etc. Learn how to do exercises correctly from a therapist, or personal trainer or from a book on "Stregthening the Core"Oct 30, 2009 at 12:45 pm #1541252
Decrease pack weight!
As far as exercise, from someone who has had knee pain since the age of 19 and tried every exercise, bodywork, you name it:
Walking is the best, period. Running up hills or up stairs makes you stronger still, especially in the ass (a strong ass is very helpful on the downhill), but only if you're strong enough.
I've reinjured and aggravated my knees countless times trying various gym exercises – squats, lunges, step-ups, etc. Some of those movements are OK, biomechanically, but done repetitiously I think they take more than they give. We evolved to pick up heavy things (squat, deadlift), to make demanding agility movements over variable terrain (lunge, step-ups), sure. But we especially evolved whilst walking and running.
I like to walk until my legs feel springy and I spontaneously have the urge to run. Then I sprint at 80%, but only ever uphill. The feeling I have is that running uphill is like a series of one-legged jumps where I don't really land, and thus don't really have a heavy impact – it's just one jump followed quickly by another, continuously going up, up, and never really thumping down. I used to like to run up a five story building and then take the elevator down to save on the downhill pounding.
When hiking downhill I almost never run, although sometimes I'll go quickly, taking very short steps toe-to-heel, like dancing.
Hiking barefoot or in very simple shoes from time to time or as a habit helps tremendously. Counterintuitively, barefoot reduces impact as you use your entire kinetic chain to reduce impact on the foot, which leads to a looser, liquid gait. A study done a couple of years ago showed reduced loads at the knee, hip and spine when knee osteoarthritis subjects walked barefoot as compared to with their shoes. Agrees with my experience.Oct 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm #1541257
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> Other hikers often mention that going downhill is harder on the knees. I
Indeed, and this is the one place where the use of trekking poles can help. By having the extra sideways stability from the extra support you take most of the *sideways* load off the knees.
Pete's Pole Pages may be worth reading about this.
CheersOct 30, 2009 at 3:49 pm #1541300
@verberLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
I agree that if you are having serious knee pain see a doc to make sure you are addressing the correct underlying issue… and often exercises can help.
+1 to the lighter weight, and using hiking poles.
One other thing I will add is your gait and what footwear you use can effect the knees. There have been a number of bio-mechanical studies that have found running barefoot (or nearly so) puts less stress on knees that the classic, shock absorbing running shoes and way less than clunky boots.
My knees used to be really bad because I have malformed feet. Years ago I had surgery and wore casts for 1 year and custom foot wear for several more year. This helped by I still had knee pain backpacking. I added exercise, dropped pack weight and added poles and things got much better. When I switched to light, flexible soled shoes my knee issues went away completely. Since the shoe/gait change I don't need the poles to protect knees (though I still use them when I need extra stability). I would bet that just changing the way I walked (how I land my foot) would have given at least some of the benefits of changing footwear.
–MarkOct 30, 2009 at 4:15 pm #1541308
"Something I do multiple times a day is stand on one foot. I can actually feel it strengthening my knees. I do it at random times. Like waiting for the light to change at a cross walk, or waiting in line, or talking to someone. I just lift one foot off the ground a *tiny* bit and boom, I'm strengthening my knee."
Jack nailed it, as far as my experience tells me. I would suggest Tai Qi Quan (tai chi). I've done it for 10 years and attribute my knee and ankle strength, suppleness, and flexibility, and balance to it, entirely. And, summed into a single motor movement, it's a lot of standing on one foot. Add a slow shift of weight while keeping your center of gravity controlled.
There's a lot of suggestion for bandaids or crutches, but if you really want to "strengthen" the knees, I think Jack's advice, or some Tai Qi, would help immensely.
-MichaelOct 31, 2009 at 11:06 am #1541441
"Get a balance board, balance ball, or slackline. Spend 30 minutes on it every day."
As many have mentioned above, lightening your pack will reduce your pain.
However, if you do want to strengthen your knees to better accomodate any load or more miles the above isn't bad advice.
I'm incredibly biased as I actually run a slackline company, but we work with physical therapy clinics in designing knee stabilizing techniques that are showing very promising results.
We worked with a study at Brigham Young University in Oahu as well as many Colorado physical and athletics therapy clinics. Even the US gymnastics team and several professional sports teams use slacklines for stabilization strengthening, core strength and balance improval.
Give me a PM if you want to know more.Oct 31, 2009 at 11:42 am #1541446
@legkohodLocale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Ditto on cycling. Make sure the seat is up high enough so that you're applying force when the leg is semi-straight rather than strongly bent.
My knees have never been as strong as they were after a 9-day cycling trip through the Alps. I basically jogged down 3000 vertical feet of trail from a mountaintop with no pain. I was amazed.
Other tips are basic: lose weight if necessary, reduce pack weight, take it slow and easy on downhills, and do a lot of walking to gradually build up the strength of the muscles and ligaments around the knee.
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