Trekking Pole Science
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Jun 4, 2010 at 6:46 am #1259768
How Trekking-Poles Help Hikers Maintain Muscle Function While Reducing Soreness
ScienceDaily (June 3, 2010) — A study by academics at Northumbria University has shown for the first time that trekking-poles help hikers maintain muscle function while significantly reducing soreness in the days following a hike.
In the study, 37 physically active men and women were split into two groups of equal fitness and asked to hike up and down Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales.
One group was issued with and trained in the use of trekking poles while the other group made the climb unaided. Each group ate the same evening meal on the night before; they ate the same breakfast, carried similar weight in day packs and took the same scheduled rests during both the ascent and descent.
The participants' heart rates and their personal perceived exertion ratings were recorded during the hike. Then, at the end of the hike, and at 24-, 48- and 72-hour intervals afterwards, muscle damage and function were assessed through a variety of tests.
The results showed that there was significantly less muscle soreness in the group using trekking poles. This group demonstrated a reduced loss of strength and a faster recovery immediately after the trek compared to the control group. Self-rated soreness peaked at 24-hours in both groups but was significantly lower in the trekking-pole group, both at this point and at the 48-hour point. In addition, levels of the enzyme creatine kinase (which indicates muscle damage) were much higher at the 24-hour point in the non-pole group, while the trekking-pole group's levels were close to the pre-trekking levels. This shows that the muscle damage they were experiencing was negligible.
Pole manufacturers have suggested that trekking poles can reduce forces on lower-limb joints by as much as 25 %. However, the existing research has been restricted to the laboratory or to non-mountainous outdoor settings, such as running tracks, and has only focussed on biomechanical investigations into stress on the ankle, knee and hip. This is the first documented study into the effectiveness of trekking poles in the environments for which they were designed.
"The results present strong evidence that trekking poles reduce, almost to the point of complete disappearance, the extent of muscle damage during a day's mountain trek," says Dr Glyn Howatson, who conducted the study.
"Preventing muscle damage and soreness is likely to improve motivation and so keep people enjoying the benefits of exercise for longer. Perhaps even more advantageously, the combined benefits of using trekking poles in reducing load to the lower limbs, increasing stability and reducing muscle damage could also help avoid injury on subsequent days trekking. It is often the reduced reaction time and position sense, associated with damaged muscles that cause the falls and trips that can lead to further injury in mountainous or uneven terrain.
"These findings have particularly strong application for exercisers wishing to engage in consecutive days' activity in mountainous terrain."Jun 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm #1616819Chris RoaneBPL Member
@chrisroaneLocale: North Rockies
Very useful information.
I currently use trekking poles, but I'm trying to wrap my head around where I would put my bear spray that would make it easily accessible when using poles. I heard of most people getting charged by a grizzly throw their poles to the side (as a distraction), but even this would be difficult with trekking pole straps. So I'm kind of not sure whether I want to use poles or not…but this is convincing information…Jun 4, 2010 at 3:38 pm #1616824Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> In the study, 37 physically active men and women were split into two groups of equal
> fitness and asked to hike up and down Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales.
> The results showed that there was significantly less muscle soreness in the group
> using trekking poles. This group demonstrated a reduced loss of strength and a faster
> recovery immediately after the trek compared to the control group. Self-rated
> soreness peaked at 24-hours in both groups but was significantly lower in
> the trekking-pole group, both at this point and at the 48-hour point.
Interesting, but if they have sore muscles 48 hours later than they were not very fit to start with. This matters.
I suspect that most of the benefit was obtained on the steeper downhill sections of the Pyg track, where unfit leg muscles would be tested.
However, it's a nice walk …
CheersJun 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm #1616828Shane S.BPL Member
I call B.S, to many varibles in the testing and indivudual pyshiology, may have been funded/sponsered by a Treking pole manufacturer. Too little info.Jun 4, 2010 at 3:58 pm #1616832
"may have been funded/sponsered by a Treking pole manufacturer"
Any evidence for this other than that the study doesn't accord with your opinion?
More information on the study would certainly be useful but I can see no reason to imply it's biased. It accords with what many people have found for themselves, including myself.
Here's the link to the university:Jun 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm #1616836
"I call B.S, to many varibles in the testing and indivudual pyshiology, may have been funded/sponsered by a Treking pole manufacturer. Too little info."
It is only a press release. This is not the full study. Yes, the full information would probably take up 3 to 10 pages or more. Press releases are generally only a few hundred words written for a journalist or newscaster to use in the media for "edutainment" in the news.
I am not responding to the balance of your comments because it was only a press release, and who knows how much control was placed until you read the detailed experimental portions of the actual study.Jun 4, 2010 at 4:17 pm #1616838AnonymousInactive
"I suspect that most of the benefit was obtained on the steeper downhill sections of the Pyg track, where unfit leg muscles would be tested."
If one does extensive, steep, downhill sections day after day, even fit legs will be tested, especially toward the end of the day; that's where poles really come into their own, IME/O. This is particularly true on unstable terrain, e.g. talus, scree, heather, etc.Jun 4, 2010 at 4:28 pm #1616843Stephen BarberBPL Member
The biggest problem I see with the experiment as reported is that it does not appear to be a double blind test, and the participants likely knew what was being tested, which pretty much invalidates the results.Jun 4, 2010 at 4:36 pm #1616847
"the participants likely knew what was being tested, which pretty much invalidates the results"
From the university press release:
"The participants’ heart rates and their personal perceived exertion ratings were recorded during the hike. Then, at the end of the hike, and at 24-, 48- and 72-hour intervals afterwards, muscle damage and function were assessed through a variety of tests……..Self-rated soreness peaked at 24-hours in both groups but was significantly lower in the trekking-pole group, both at this point and at the 48-hour point. In addition, levels of the enzyme creatine kinase (which indicates muscle damage) were much higher at the 24-hour point in the non-pole group, while the trekking-pole group’s levels were close to the pre-trekking levels."
"Personal perceived exertion ratings" and "self-rated soreness" could certainly have been influenced by knowledge of what was being tested but not heart rates or enzyme levels.Jun 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm #1616848
You can't do this one double-blind. Think about it for a minute.
How would you arrange to have one group use poles, and the other not, but without either group knowing which group used poles until after seeing the results of the study? (That's double-blind. I suspect that you're mis-using the term here.)
If, for example, you were auditioning two pairs of high-end speakers for your snazzy new stereo, a double-blind test would be one where only one variable changes (which speakers), and neither you (the listener) nor the person changing the speakers (the tester) knows which one is which.
(You can arrange this with a home theater setup by having a 3rd person wire the system up with a switch, so that the tester doesn't know which pair is connected to, say, "output B.")
A better study would been two trips: send EVERYONE on a trip without poles, give them a week to get back to normal, and send them all on the SAME trip WITH poles, and then compare the results.Jun 4, 2010 at 5:38 pm #1616859Bob GrossBPL Member
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
"You can't do this one double-blind."
Sure you can.
If you had all 37 hikers going together, it would be obvious that half had poles and half had no poles. So, separate the two groups into different days. Then, neither group would see the others or have any knowledge of the others.
–B.G.–Jun 4, 2010 at 6:03 pm #1616867
The main use of a doubleblinded experiment is to control the "Placebo effect" in things like drug treatments where if the subject knows if/innot getting the real treatment will affect his/her response. And also the researcher is "blinded" because he/she may give away the information to the subject/patient as to what the subject or patient is being given a real treatment.
I am quite certain that the "double blinded" thing isn't needed here.
No one will argue that the test of a parachute needs a randomized double blind experiment to find out if a parachute design works or doesn't.
No one needs a Randomized double blind experiment to see if body armor works against a bullet or not.
The Wright brothers weren't criticized for not having a randomized double blind first flight of their aircraft.
Sometimes, somebody learns a new word, and overuses it.Jun 5, 2010 at 9:44 am #1617013James KleinBPL Member
The purpose of a blind experiments is to elimiate bias in interpretation of test results – especially helpful/important when you're asking subjects to say "rate thier soreness". Double blind experiments attemp to reduce this bias in both the experimenters and the subjects. Simply splitting up the 37 would be single blind.
Determining whether or not a parachute design works, body armour stops bullets or a plane flys lends itself to very low chance for human bias – so of course a blinded study isn't nescessary. If you where trying to determine how secure someone felt while parachuting in the new design than argument would be more applicable.
JamesJun 5, 2010 at 9:59 am #1617017Stephen BarberBPL Member
My apologies – "double blind" was the wrong terminology. What I should have said was that both groups do not appear to have been treated equally, possibly raising expectations of better or worse performance.
Both groups should have been introduced to a "special" technique or piece of equipment, and taught to use it. Both should have had a "training" session. Any expectations of performance expressed to one group should have been given to the other as well.
The expectations of the "special" equipment/technique group can effect not only self-perceptions, but also physiological indicators. Our brains are biological and the controlling part of our bodies – what affects the brain affects the entire body.
The test hike(s) should certainly be done in such a way that the two groups do not interact with each other.
Note that since I haven't seen the actual write-up of the experiment, I am only commenting on what the news article said – the study itself may well have been done with a good eye to keeping the groups equivalent.Jun 5, 2010 at 10:45 am #1617031Chris KoppMember
Here is a copy of the abstract of the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise article that was published on May 13, 2010. My university unfortunately doesn't have a subscription to this journal so I couldn't read the full text. Scanning some of the other research that is out there on pole use found that poles are reducing stress on the body and increasing performance while decreasing perceived effort.
Trekking Poles Reduce Exercise-Induced Muscle Injury during Mountain Walking
Howatson, Glyn; Hough, Paul; Pattison, John; Hill, Jessica A.; Blagrove, Richard; Glaister, Mark; Thompson, Kevin G.
Temporary muscle damage precipitated by downhill walking affects muscle function and potentially exposes muscle to further musculoskeletal injury.
Purpose: We hypothesised that the use of trekking poles would help maintain muscle function and reduce indices of muscle damage following a day's mountain trekking.
Methods: Thirty-seven physically active males (n = 26) and females (n = 11) volunteered to participate and were divided in to either a trekking pole (TP) or no pole (NP) group. Participants carried a day sack (5.6 +/- 1.5 kg) and made the ascent and descent of the highest peak in England and Wales (Mt Snowdon). Heart rate (HR) and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were recorded during the ascent and descent. Indices of muscle damage; maximal voluntary isometric force (MVC), muscle soreness (DOMS) creatine kinase (CK), and vertical jump (VJ) performance were measured before, immediately after (except CK), 24 h, 48 h and 72 h post trek.
Results: HR was not different between groups, although RPE was significantly lower in TP during the ascent. The TP group showed attenuation of reductions in MVC immediately after, 24 h and 48 h post trek; DOMS was significantly lower at 24 h and 48 h post trek and CK was also lower at 24 h post trek in the TP group. No differences in VJ were found.
Conclusion: Trekking poles reduce RPE on mountain ascents and reduce indices of muscle damage and assist in maintaining muscle function in the days following a mountain trek and reduce the potential for subsequent injury.
(C)2010The American College of Sports MedicineJun 5, 2010 at 11:16 am #1617041Shane S.BPL Member
Why Chris, does this study agree with your opinon?
Again, too many variables. The only way for this study to have credence would be under "double blind", controlled laboratory conditions, undergoing the exact same monitored exertion rates with a couple set of twins to rule out any possible any variance body chemistry/composition issues that is undergone during exertion. And even with twins there may be some physiology differences but it is the best that could be done. Muscle soreness is too subjective to the individual therefore invalid.Jun 5, 2010 at 11:42 am #1617048Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
I doubt we can 100% scientifically determine the advantage/disadvantage of trekking poles. Too many variables between individuals. Maybe if we did similar tests on individuals with and withoug poles, and the same route, with a large sample size, we could get better dats.
That being said, here are my unscientific findings of someone who used a hiking staff for 40 years, and a pair of LT4s for more than a year.
Trekking poles help me go up long steep ascents faster, with less leg work (transferred to my arms and shoulders).
They slow me down on fairly level trails. The LT4s are so light, I just carry them parallel to the ground, holding them in the middle.
They are helpful for crossing some streams.
They are helpful for moving rattlesnakes out of my path.
Sometimes they are helpful going downhill, and sometimes dangerous downhill, if they catch in between large rocks.
They are useful for setting up a tarp, if natural resources are not available.
They often make noise when hiking, especially on rocks.
If my poles weighed much more, I would likely go back to a single staff, or nothing at all.
People hiking with them look goofy to me.
Mentally, I don't see any large perceived advantage, but now take them on every trip. The conveniences outweigh the inconveniences.
So if you like them, take them. If you don't like them, or doubt their usefullness, then don't. Seems to be one of those debates that rage on and one, with no camp able to prove their point of view.Jun 5, 2010 at 12:18 pm #1617052Unknown abcMember
I love trekking poles for climbing up hills. They help the arms and upper body get more involved in the work load. But I have found that for flat stretches and descents, (esp. steep ones where I would rather have my hands free for a self-arrest) they become more of a hindrance. It takes too long to take the pack off and strap them on, then put the pack back on again, only to need them again a few minutes later.
As I find myself increasing in physical strength and endurance, I would rather challenge myself to go without them. And if I would like a staff for a climb, my hiking locale is not without abundant good sticks which can also be discarded along the side of the trail or to another hiker at will.Jun 5, 2010 at 12:25 pm #1617053Chris KoppMember
"Why Chris, does this study agree with your opinon?"
I'm just putting info out there, not opinions.Jun 5, 2010 at 12:29 pm #1617055
"Why Chris, does this study agree with your opinon?"
I don't have an opinion on whether using poles reduces muscle damage or not. In fact that idea hadn't occurred to me, which is why I find the study interesting. I hiked thousands of miles, including the PCT and CDT, without poles and never suffered any noticeable muscle damage so I certainly don't think this is a big issue. I do think poles are useful much of the time but I don't think they're essential and I don't always use them.Jun 5, 2010 at 2:48 pm #1617099Michael LBPL Member
>"I call B.S, to many varibles in the testing and indivudual pyshiology, may have been funded/sponsered by a Treking pole manufacturer. Too little info."
As people have noted, the actually study should reveal any funding by a manufacturer. Any half way decent study will disclose this as a matter of course. But there are not too many variables in this study. I would have liked to see a larger sample size, but you can still get valid results here.
>"The biggest problem I see with the experiment as reported is that it does not appear to be a double blind test, and the participants likely knew what was being tested, which pretty much invalidates the results."
Not really. Obviously a double blind would be best, but it is just not true that not being a blind or double blind invalidates the results. Especially if we see this or a comprable study repeated with similar results.
>"Sure you can. If you had all 37 hikers going together, it would be obvious that half had poles and half had no poles. So, separate the two groups into different days. Then, neither group would see the others or have any knowledge of the others."
Bob, I will take the possible bias from the participants knowing what is going on over the much more likely bias from differences doing this on separates days. You might get rain, humidity, heat, etc.. that will throw off the study way more than a possible bias.
Plus you might get just as many people who are "biased" trying to show the poles don't work. So any potential bias could be either way.
>"Again, too many variables. The only way for this study to have credence would be under "double blind", controlled laboratory conditions, undergoing the exact same monitored exertion rates with a couple set of twins to rule out any possible any variance body chemistry/composition issues that is undergone during exertion. And even with twins there may be some physiology differences but it is the best that could be done. Muscle soreness is too subjective to the individual therefore invalid."
Just stop. This is not right. First we don't have too many variables. The only variable we are testing is the pole. Second you have a population of participants so that any differences are averaged out when you take a random selection and give them poles. Tests like this are done all the time, and I promise you they don't all go out and find identical twins. Re-read the study, they do more than ask them if they are sore. They do several readings to check self-reported soreness.
I just don't know why people are doubting. This seems like a logical result. Doesn't mean YOU personally need to use trekking poles.Jun 5, 2010 at 11:27 pm #1617199
Even though I agree with the result, I think that the test was inherently flawed.
And by the way, there's no way to do a double blind test here, unless you can somehow have a hiker not know whether or not they used a trekking pole.
There ARE a lot more variables besides the poles — because they had DIFFERENT PEOPLE in each group.
Like I said, if they wanted to ensure a valid result, the most logical thing to do would have been to have EVERY hiker do several hikes both with and without trekking poles, and evaluate their muscle damage after each hike.Jun 6, 2010 at 7:49 am #1617237Michael LBPL Member
I disagree (obviously) that the test is inherently flawed. Tests like this are done quite often. You just have to have a large enough sample. You can record the age, weight, or any other thing you think matters. You can statistically test if they made a difference. This is done literally all the time.
Believe me, when people conduct tests, they don't have to use the same people with repeated testing in order to ensure valid results.
One way to improve this test would have to thrown in more variables and more people. You could have used different trekking poles, different packs, and other variables so that the partcipants wouldn't know what they were testing. But to do this you would need a much larger population. So I can understand why they kept this smaller (cheaper).Jun 6, 2010 at 7:54 am #1617239
Speaking as a retired scientist, the discussion of this press release has been revealing and frustrating.
Most initial studies are just that – initial studies. Sometimes they are intended to economically demonstrate the existance of a phenomena which can be studied, or illustrate the feasability of an approach as the basis for a later and more expensive study.
The general pressure in the sciences, especially in areas of limited funding, is "Publish or Perish".It is hard to get research money if you don't publish…. and it is better to publish a preliminary study than to try to get research funds for the "Perfect" study with no prior publications in the topic area.
I see a lot of "perfection" attitude in the expectations of those who don't "do" science. It isn't like it is shown in the movies or TV, or even many books.
"If you watch sausage being made, you wouldn't want to eat it." This is a common claim that has been around for a century following the publication of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle". If you actually experienced doing science, you may not be so "Perfectionistic" in your demands and expectations.
It is really common for a given initial study to lead to subsequent larger and more expensive and detailed studies to fully address the relevant questions.
It is hard to get major funding for a new study without some kind of indication that the study is likely to be fruitful. Unless, of course, you have an astounding publication track record – which is also sort of a guarantee that some kind of publishable or even useful result will be the outcome.
The discussions have failed to touch on the subject of the statistical variations between people. Some clearly are more likely to attain large benefits than others, and there may be physical reasons for that. Sometimes the study of these statistical variations can be far more productive than refinements to "mean behavior".
"Your Mileage May Vary" is a worthwhile concept and an important factor to each individual.
Remembering what life was like as a professional researcher grubbing for research funds to bring food into the house and make payments, this study is not an END, but a BEGINNING. I am sure it was never intended to be an END.
I'm glad I am retired and out of all of that.Jun 6, 2010 at 8:38 am #1617247
The fact that tests like this are common isn't a good way to validate them. Not a lot of people actually run tests all that well.
37 people isn't a very large sample size, though. They probably couldn't afford to do this study with a larger sample size, but any way you slice it, 37 people isn't a large sample.
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