How to Reduce Knee Pain On and Off the Trail
Like most, I've struggled with bad knee pain on the trail, especially the steep downhill sections.
When I started backpacking and thru-hiking, suffering through on the way back to the car and just not walking the next day were no longer an option. So after much research and talking to doctors on what to do about my knee pain, how to prevent it and how to deal with it on the trail, here is what works for me.
Turmeric and Anti-Inflammatory Supplements
Turmeric, famous for its use in South Asian dishes, also has a number of health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties that reduce swelling.
By taking turmeric constantly for weeks before hiking and while on the trail if you're backpacking, it will help reduce the swelling caused by the pressure you’re putting on your body and ultimately help reduce your knee pain.
At home, I have a juicer and regularly juice fruit and veggies, so I add turmeric to my juices. But on the trail, I bring it in pill form. Doctors recommend getting 1,000 milligrams per day. Combine it with food like black pepper which contains piperine, which helps the turmeric properties be absorbed into your bloodstream instead of just staying in your gut.
I use the Garden of Life Turmeric tablets.
Omega-3 and Joint Lubricating Supplements
Taking one to three grams of Omega-3 supplements recommended for reducing joint pain. The fatty acids in this amount can help increase blood flow throughout the body during exercise which reduced joint pain and swelling.
These healthy fats also play a role in restoring healthy join tissue and act as joint lubrication to reduce friction. Also, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil, help reduce inflammation in your join.
I take omega-3 supplements on and off the trail in a pill form consistently throughout the year. I take Dr Tobias Omega 3 Fish Oil.
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in our bodies. It's also a major component of connective tissue, including tendons, ligaments, skin, bones, and muscles. Ligaments and tendons are the connective tissue that holds two bones and muscles together.
As we get older, the amount of collagen our bodies naturally produce decreases. As collagen production decreases, our tendons and ligaments start feeling stiff and swollen.
Ingesting collagen is like greasing a creaky door hinge. It stimulates cartilage growth and comforts and supports weak joints to reduce wear and tear. Studies have shown that collagen is even an effective treatment for osteoarthritis.
I take collagen as a protein powder and I mix it in with almond milk, in smoothies, in pancakes, with oatmeal, etc. These are the ones I use: Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein Powder
Trekking poles give you four points of contact with the ground and help reduce some of the pressure off of your feet and knees. They're also extremely helpful for water crossings!
They also help with circulation and keep your hands from swelling by keeping your arms closer to the level of your heart as you hike.
KT tape works to support your muscles and joints without restriction the range of motion the way a brace does.
When applied correctly, the elasticity in KT tape gently lifts your skin from the tissue below. This allows more space for blood flow and lymphatic flow which helps reduce pressure on the area and swelling.
Overall Body Strength
Having a strong core is the foundation of good posture and skeletal alignment which as essential to evenly distribute pressure on your joints and protects your knees from sustaining too much pressure.
Strengthening the muscles around your knees will help stabilize your joints and decrease pain on and off the trail. Before you workout, make sure to properly warm up your body to avoid injury. Make sure you also have proper form while working out. An incorrect form will only make your knees worse. I was in a workout class once and the trainer said to the calls, "squatting doesn’t hurt your knees, the way you squat hurts your knees."
To maintain proper form while squatting:
Make sure your knees don’t go in front of your toes when squatting.
Hinge from your hips, don’t keep your body straight.
Place a chair behind you and squat, it’ll keep your form aligned.
Don’t buckle your knees inward, keep your outer thigh aligned with the edges of your feet.
Tuck your chin and lengthen the back of your neck and back
Keep your shoulders up, don’t hunch over.
Exercises for your knees/lower body:
Hip raises **
Single leg bridge holds **
Inner thigh leg lifts
Squat raise to squat pulse**
**You can add a resistance band to these workouts to activate your glute (butt) muscles more and increase the challenge.
Exercises for your core:
Side plank hold
Leg raises with butt lift
Downward dog pushups
For cardio, I don’t run because of the added pressure to my knees. Choose a low impact cardio form such as cycling, swimming, the elliptical, or the stair master.
I prefer indoor cycling (like SoulCycle) because cycling is a low impact but high-intensity form of cardio. If the bike is positioned correctly, it will help not only build your cardio strength and endurance, but also strengthen the muscles around your knees. I also have cycling shoes (either DELTA LOOK or SPD clips depending on the shoes and the bike). The cycling shoes properly align your feet on the bike to really ensure that it’s strengthening your knees and it gives you a harder workout too. It allows you to push and pull directly through the bike instead of the momentum being lost through your shoes. Some gyms have pedals that can fit both kind of clips, call yours to make sure.
I used to take cycling classes at my gym, but the classes didn’t work around my schedule, so I got the Sunny Health Indoor Cycling Bike and I changed the bike pedals to fit my STD clips. I have the Shimano ME2 Mountain Bike Shoes with SPD clips.
Stretching will increase your range of motion and flexibility. It keeps your body functional, and a range of motion and flexibility helps you prevent injury.
At home you can also use a foam roller to help stretch out stiff muscles. On the trail, you can use a tennis ball to do the same.
Standing hip stretch
Seated or standing hamstring stretch
Seated glute (or piriformis) stretch
Figure four stretch
Seated or standing toe touch
Lunge with spinal twist
Seated or standing shoulder squeeze
Lunging hip flexor stretch