Does Hiking Strengthen Your Knees?
Yes, hiking can strengthen your knees! In fact, hiking is a fantastic way to improve all-around leg strength, cardiovascular fitness, and endurance. It is a great way for almost everyone, young or old, large or small, rich or poor to get some exercise and fall in love with the outdoors.
Many articles will teach you how to get fit for hiking but do not explain that hiking itself can be training. Hiking has been proven to strengthen your legs and shift a few pounds of fat while you are at it.
In this article, we will discuss how hiking strengthens your knees, why knees get sore while hiking and how to avoid knee injury. Let’s dive in!
How Does Hiking Strengthen My Knees?
The Knee is the largest and one of the most complex joints in the body, consisting of bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
This wonder of nature is strong enough to support your entire body weight while having the flexibility to run, jump, squat, and most importantly hike!
Many Orthopedic doctors will prescribe hiking or walking for people with knee issues as it can help to reduce knee pain whilst also increasing knee strength. Read on to find out how…
Hiking Strengthens Bones
If you want better bones, put down that glass of milk and hit the trails!
The stomping motion of taking steps and balancing your body weight on uneven trails causes stress on a hiker’s bones. This stress encourages bones to create new cells, increasing their bone mineral density. Bones with more density are stronger. Simple!
Having stronger bones is useful for hiking! It has also been proven to reduce the risk of bone fractures, give you better balance, and improve posture.
Hiking Strengthens Muscles
If your leg muscles feel tired at the top of a flight of stairs, imagine how they will feel after crossing a mountain range!
The constant strain that hiking places on your muscles is perfect for building strength and muscle tone without increasing size. That´s why hikers have such great legs!
Hiking creates tears in the microfibers that make up your muscles. These tears are the cause of fatigue, aching muscles, and feeling like you are 100 years old the day after a hike! This pain is commonly known as DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness).
But worry not, after some rest, your body will repair the damage caused by the hike, strengthening muscle fibers that will improve your leg strength and endurance. Ultimately stronger leg muscles lead to stronger, more stable knees.
Hiking Strengthens Tendons And Ligaments
Ligaments are tissue that holds bones to other bones, tendons are made of similar tissue that anchors your muscles to your bone. Both are important to your knees, anyone who has damaged these tissues will tell you of the pain and discomfort experienced.
Hiking strengthens these tissues in the same way as it strengthens muscles. By causing tiny amounts of damage to the fibers that will then be repaired and strengthened. These repairs will increase not only the strength but elasticity of the tissue.
Weak or damaged tendons or ligaments are one of the main causes of knee pain, it is very important to increase their strength. If you suffer from such pain we recommend shorter, less impactful hikes, slowly increasing difficulty as your gain strength.
Why Do My Knees Get Sore while Hiking?
Knee pain affects approximately 25% of adults, limiting function, mobility, and quality of life
If you are new to hiking or have had a long time away from the sport, the muscles tendons, and ligaments in your knees may be lacking the strength to complete long walks over undulating, rugged terrain. For this reason, it is not uncommon for hikers to develop a pain named “Hikers Knee”.
In most instances, Hikers Knee will start after a few hours of hiking. It can also occur whilst descending the mountain, or once the hike has finished and your muscles have cooled down.
If knee pain starts on the hike, the journey back to the car can not only be very uncomfortable but also unsafe. When inflamed, putting weight on your knee may be difficult, which will severely reduce your balance and ability to hike safely.
Studies have shown that descending a mountain can put almost twice your body weight onto your knee with every step. Over a period this can be very strenuous on the joint, causing muscle fatigue, inflammation of the tendons, and in some serious cases ligament tears or damage to your cartilage.
When it comes to knee pain and hiking, avoidance is much better than cure. Once the pain starts to develop, if untreated it often only gets worse. Read on to find out how to avoid knee pain whilst hiking
How To Avoid Knee Pain While Hiking
If you are new to hiking, have had a long time off, have put on some weight, or are recovering from injury then take it easy.
Choose shorter hikes and over easier terrain such as forest roads, river paths, or around lakes. Your muscles will build quickly but tendons and ligaments may take a little longer to come up to standard.
If you start with such hikes in late winter or early spring, you should be ready to increase distance and difficulty by summer. Whilst out on hikes, pay attention to how your knees are feeling and try to be left wanting more rather than pushing yourself too hard.
Use Hiking/ Trekking Poles
Hiking/ Trekking poles have been proven to take some pressure off your legs by sharing the load with your arms.
Many experienced hikers use poles as it helps them to cover rough terrain with ease. For those with weak or painful knees, poles can be especially useful as they can remove the strain placed on knees due to heavier loading whilst descending.
Hiking/Trekking poles are light and can be carried easily in a backpack when not in use. If you would like to find out more about how Hiking poles can be useful check out this article
Wear A Knee Brace
If you develop sore knees while hiking, a knee brace could be the answer.
Wearing a knee brace whilst hiking is great for:
- Supporting your knee over uneven terrain
- Reducing the chance of injury
- Allowing you to hike with more confidence
- Reducing fatigue, allowing you to hike for longer
- Encouraging tissue repair for an old injury
- Keeping your knee warm and protected
When choosing a knee brace, it is important to speak to a doctor, physiotherapist or pharmacist to ensure that you pick one that fits properly and is suitable for hiking.
Take Regular Breaks
Allow time on your hike to enjoy regular rest breaks and remember to drink lots of water.
Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and your hiking partner very much enjoy some rest. Remember that hiking is not a race. Never forget to stop regularly and take some time to enjoy all the wonder that nature has to offer
As a general rule, we try to rest for 10 minutes for every hour hiked but adapt plans when crossing mountainous terrain or we have a big rest stop planned at a beauty spot.
Remember also that although you may not need to stop, a member of your group may be getting tired but is too shy to speak up. Hiking with a group is a team sport so scheduled breaks are important for everyone.
Wear The Correct Footwear
A good pair of boots can go a long way when it comes to reducing and preventing knee pain whilst hiking.
We recommend looking for a pair of hiking boots with features like:
Shock Absorbing Soles
Thick hiking soles made with shock-absorbing material lessen the pressure put through your knees whilst walking.
Boots with arch support or special insoles can reduce pressure on your feet and promote better posture while walking. This will reduce knee and back pain when hiking.
High-cuff hiking boots add more ankle support which assists the legs to balance and removes stress from your knees on uneven terrain.
Many knee injuries are caused by a slip or trip which can twist the knee or cause an impact. Boots with a grippy, aggressive tread will greatly reduce the chance of slipping.
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