Protecting Your Knees During Downhill Hikes
Knee pain is common while hiking, and there are a variety of ways to deal with the discomfort. When hiking downhill, however, there are some specific steps you should take to prevent knee pain and reduce the risk of accidents. Here are some tips to help keep your knees safe and pain-free during your next downhill hike.
Take it slow.
Hiking downhill puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your knees. According to research appearing in the Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy journal, downhill hiking generates pressure amounting to 7 to 8.5 times your entire body weight. With this in mind, it's no wonder why so many outdoor enthusiasts experience knee discomfort after an extended downhill hike, especially if they moved too quickly. When hiking downhill, it's important to move slowly at a steady space to reduce pressure and make the hike more manageable for your body.
Relax and go with the flow.
It's natural for a hiker's stride to elongate when moving downhill. While overstriding is bad on level ground, it can help you resist the pull of gravity when moving downhill. With that said, if you find yourself moving too quickly, it's actually best to shorten and slow your steps to create a more natural stride.
Avoid leaning back.
While it may be tempting, you should avoid leaning back, since this can put you off balance and increase your risk of a fall. When hiking downhill, it's generally best to remain upright, keeping your torso over your hips and knees. If it helps, you can also lean slightly forward to improve stability. Whatever the case, be sure to keep your knees slightly bent with every single step.
If you are hiking on very steep slopes or loose gravelly surfaces, you should take a serpentine path by moving across the slope in a bit of a zigzag motion. This switchbacking technique is a common trail design intended to reduce steepness either downhill or uphill. If there is no such trail, you will have to generate the effect by angling across the slope for a few steps right, then a few steps left. However you decide to proceed, always use caution when moving downhill over loose surfaces, or you could lose your footing and suffer a dangerous fall.
Try trekking poles.
Although many hikers resist the idea of using trekking poles, there's no doubting their effectiveness when it comes to reducing knee pain on downhill hikes. Research has shown that trekking poles can help reduce the risk of knee pain by taking some of the impact off hikers as they move downhill. They also provide increased stability to help reduce the risk of falls and hyperextension of the knees. You can adjust the length of your trekking poles when you start a descent and then make the poles shorter for uphill hikes.
Things to Consider
If you're planning a downhill hike, it's important to make sure you're wearing comfortable hiking boots with very good traction. You should also consider wearing a knee brace if you have existing knee issues. Your typical knee brace designed for casual use can actually do more harm than good in a trail setting. With this in mind, you should look for a knee brace or sleeve specifically designed for hiking.
It's also a good idea to strengthen your quadriceps and glutes before your hike since this can help take the pressure off your knees. Lunges are a great way to strengthen both muscles, allowing you to increase strength, stability and stamina for lengthy downhill and uphill hikes on challenging terrain.
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