Fall is the perfect time to hike. There's a cool breeze, the fallen leaves make the trail even softer, and once you reach the pinnacle, you'll be amazed at the gorgeous foliage across the horizon. I love to try out new mountain trails, but find that the steep inclines and declines can be really hard on my knees. If this sounds familiar, don't let achy knees keep you off the trail. Here are some ways you can prevent pain to these joints.
- Make sure your footwear is supportive. Sneakers provide cushioning, but they won't stabilize your ankles, which can also help to prevent your knees from turning out. So wear trail runners or hiking shoes that go over your ankle.
- Invest in a pair of trekking poles. They look like ski poles, and when you use them to help you ascend and descend, they take some of the weight and work out of your lower body, and share it with your arms and back. So not only will you get more of a total body workout, but it's less demanding on your knees.
- Go easy on the gear. Even though a little pack may not add a ton of extra weight, downward force on your knees can reach eight times the weight applied, so even five extra pounds can add 40 pounds of pressure to your knee joints. For a day hike all you need is water, some food, an extra layer, and your cell phone. If you have to bring along more, ask a helpful friend to carry it in their pack.
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- Vary your steps and avoid moving in a straight line for the entire hike. Walk in a zigzag pattern up and down hills, walk sideways, or walk backwards since repetitive motions can lead to pain.
- Stop and take breaks often, and do some hamstring, quad, and calf stretches. If your knees are hurting, elevate your legs for a few minutes, or apply an icepack (keep one in your friends' pack).
- When going downhill, step slowly, and don't be afraid to crouch down and use your hands. The more slowly you move, the less jarring motions you'll feel in your knees.
- If you have injured knees, choose a hike that has subtle, gradual hills rather than rigidly steep ones.