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How To Protect Your Knees While Hiking

Hiking is an incredible way to challenge yourself both physically and mentally and is also a great way to boost your mood and time outdoors. As many of you already know, hiking can take a major toll on your body- specifically your knees. If you've ever been on a long, or maybe even difficult hike, you know first hand that those pesky aches and pains can ruin your hike and in most cases ruin your day. The good news is that hiking doesn't have to hurt, and it doesn't have to ruin your day. Knowing how to properly take care of and protect your knees while hiking can help keep you a happy and healthy hiker. 

Why Do Your Knees Hurt While Hiking?

Even the most experienced and strongest hikers can suffer from knee pain. No matter who you are, how much you weigh, or how much physical activity you participate in, these joints are more likely to be at risk of injury simply because they carry nearly all of your body weight for extended periods of time. Depending on your walking style and the type of terrain you walk on, the type of knee pain you experience and the best treatments for it may vary. If you feel that you may have a serious injury, I urge you to consult a physician as soon as possible. However, there are plenty of techniques that you can into implement in your hikes to help take care of your knee joints beginning from the ground up.  

How To Safely Hike Uphill

The type of terrain you are hiking on can determine almost everything from proper foot placement, to form, and to how your body bears weight. In general, most people rely on the muscles located on the anterior (front) side of our body, think quadriceps and hip flexors, to walk uphill instead of our hamstrings and calves to propel us forward against gravity. This is because these muscles are usually weaker due to the fact that most of our days involve extended amounts of sitting. As a result, we tend to overuse our quadriceps resulting in our knees tracking too far over our ankle, creating painful wear and tear in the cartilage. 

The simple solution to this problem is to do your best to keep your knee and shin vertical to the ground as you hike uphill and to use your calves instead of your quad muscles to propel your body upwards. The best way to do this is by keeping your foot flat on the ground as you walk, including your heel, rather than stepping with your toe. 

How To Safely Hike Downhill

We all know those long treks down to a lower elevation where it never seems to end. They're steep and make you feel as if you are running downhill. Or maybe it's even a rocky surface that has you feeling a little unsteady. Even if you have healthy joints, this can still cause discomfort. 

The key to protecting your knees as you hike downhill is to walk in such a way that softens the impact of your feet on the terrain. Lean back slightly and allow your hips to shift smoothly from side to side to help disperse the weight evenly as your foot hits the ground. Also, try to walk in a zig-zag pattern down the hill as much as you can to avoid walking directly on straight, extended legs. This helps to avoid the problem of excessive pounding on the knees. 

Best Gear To Protect Your Knees While Hiking

- Trecking Poles: 

Using trekking poles while you’re hiking can give you better stability and keep your knee and ankle joints safe on the trail. They are the #1 way to protect your knees while hiking.

- Proper Fitting Hiking Boots:

Our feet are the foundation of almost every movement that we make. If you have improper footwear that makes you feel uncomfortable or restricted while hiking than that will certainly take a toll on your knees, hips and even the low back. It’s important to choose boots with good traction, sturdy material, and flexibility that will allow your feet a healthy range of motion to help you walk. A good rule of thumb to find out if you have properly-fitting shoes is that you can wiggle your toes.

- Compression Socks For Your Knees:

Hiking compression socks can help with improving muscle & joint stability as well as muscle recovery.

- Supportive Knee Braces: 

There are many knee braces that are specifically designed to protect your knees while hiking. Make sure to grab a couple and see how they feel. Make sure to get ones that fit, and aren't too loose as you will lose usability. 

- Get Plenty Of Omega-3s: 

Omega-3’s are fatty acids that your body doesn’t produce on its own. They help to lubricate your joints as well as decrease muscle and joint pain by reducing inflammation. Flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, egg yolks, and olive oil are all rich in Omega-3’s. You can also take fish oil capsules. Omega 3’s have been proven to improve focus and concentration which is great for conquering those long hikes. 

How To Have Healthy Knees Off The Trail: 

You can help to speed up healing and recovery by giving your knees a little extra attention after a long hike. Any activity that requires extensive physical exertion will make your muscles tight and potentially add to greater injury. When it comes to your knees, that tightness can seriously stress out the joints, so make it a habit to regularly stretch out your muscles. 

Break up tight connective tissue and relieve soreness by massaging or rolling out your feet and calf muscles with a self-massage tool like a foam roller

- Your quadricep muscles do a lot of the heavy lifting... You can also use a muscle roller or soft foam ball to stretch them out and release soreness and tightness

Strengthen your hamstring muscles. Exercises that help you develop strong and  healthy hamstrings will give you the extra push power you need to engage the proper muscles while walking and hiking. Lunges and squats are two great exercises for strengthening your hamstrings. You can even do lunges with a loaded pack on if you want to add a little more weight or simply use a kettlebell when doing squats. 

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