Expert Advice

My Knees Never Hurt Before!

You are at the Grand Canyon hiking down South Kaibab Trail to reach the depths of the canyon and the Colorado River. Half way down, your knees are feeling a bit sore, but they’re still working.  Three quarters of the way down, your knees are really feeling the pain and you can’t wait to hike UPHILL! But you made it this far, might as well go the rest of the way. Does this scenario read familiar? Maybe not if you have never hiked the Grand Canyon, but for any long (about 7 mile) downhill trek, you may have done, it does. No worries, there are ways to make sure your knees can handle the adventure. Aside from training and conditioning your muscles prior to the hike – squats, lunges, hip exercises – hiking technique is key to happy knees. Follow these few tips and you could help prevent some discomfort.

Use trekking poles. Trekking poles are good at redistributing some weight from your legs and into your upper body, especially when carrying a pack. AND, they take up to 25 pounds of weight off your joints – knees and back.

Keep your knees bent. This doesn’t mean a big bend, just enough to keep you from hyper-extending your joints. Many people have a tendency to lock their knees when hiking, especially when muscles begin to fatigue. Instead of muscles doing the work, we use the joint to hold up our body weight. Over a short time period, this will cause severe pain. Over a long period of time, several years of locking your knees, you may cause long term damage.

Step through your heels. When stepping downhill or down steps, try lead with your heels instead of the ball of your foot or toes. Your ankle is more stable when in an anatomically correct position, i.e. foot flexed. You are also less likely to slip. These tips may take some practice so don’t wait until your hiking day to try them out.

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